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Egypt Between Religious Freedom and Economic Woes

It is not a coincidence that the Egyptian President has chosen the Cathedral to deliver an assuring message to the Egyptian people about state efforts to overcome the economic crisis.

When President El-Sisi walked into the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ on Friday evening, the Coptic Christian citizens who attended the Christmas ceremony jumped off their seats with joy to greet him. Little children gave him flowers and shouted words of love at him. The elders praised him as a hero. The Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Tawadros II, and fellow clergy prayed for God’s support and guidance to their favorite president.

“All respect to Pope Tawadros’ wisdom! You may not realize the love and appreciation I have for him,” President El-Sisi said as soon as he got to the stage. “Our affection for each other [Muslims and Christians] must continue without discrimination for the next generations to prosper. We are one!”

It was a scene of genuine love for the man who saved more than 20 million Coptic Christian citizens from being persecuted by the extremist political Islamist groups that ruled Egypt in the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolution a decade ago – namely, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists.

Although the political leadership of President El-Sisi has successfully quarantined the Muslim Brotherhood's influence on Egyptian society during the past few years, it still needs to exert more effort to control the Salafists, who are even more extremist. Last week, while the entire country was celebrating the new year and Christmas, the Salafist groups' leaders warned their followers against congratulating their Coptic Christian neighbors and friends for Christmas.

Freedom of belief is guaranteed by the constitution, the current constitution, and all the former ones, but neither the politicians nor the society had ever honored it. Former presidents used to abuse religion to upscale their political game or oppress the opposition. For decades, the Coptic Christian citizens, who comprise more than 15% of the Egyptian population, had suffered marginalization and discrimination due to corrupt state practices, unfair laws, and the quick rise of extremist Islamists in rural cities.

In absolute contrast, President El-Sisi is the first leader to show unparalleled dedication to improving the status of religious freedom and women’s rights as a tool to combat violent extremism and restore peace, security, and stability in the country. Western media and leaders have constantly criticized the existing Egyptian state for its performance on human rights. Most of the criticism is based on individual stories of political dissidents and inaccurate claims of the political Islamists living abroad. While rightfully advocating for greater space of political freedom, the criticizers of the Egyptian state’s policies tend to unfairly ignore the massive progress that the current leadership of President El-Sisi has achieved in terms of religious freedom and social rights for fragile citizen groups such as women and minorities. In that sense, it may not be surprising that the largest number of El-Sisi’s electoral constituency are Coptic Christians and women. Both groups found refuge in El-Sisi’s anti-Islamists policies.

El-Sisi’s visit to the Cathedral, on January 6th, is an indirect message that he can rescue the country from the current economic crisis as he did before. It is a signal that Egypt is still on the right track toward security and stability, despite all the economic pains it is going through. Perhaps, that is why the president has cleverly selected the church to voice his assuring message to Egyptians regarding the current economic crisis:

“I can see that people are anxious and scared for justified reasons. But I am saying to you rest assured that we are doing well despite the suffering. We are trying, and God will not let us down,” said the Egyptian President. “Do not listen to rumors! We are not hiding anything from you. I will be the first to tell you about any major procedures that the state may take,” confirmed the president in response to the rumors about vending the Suez Canal to foreign state investors.

Also, read on Sada Elbalad


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