Sisi’s victory: A step forward in protecting Egypt’s Christians?
By Todd Daniels and ICC’s Egypt Representative
Egyptians have cast their votes in the first presidential election since the removal of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi. As preliminary results come in, it appears that Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has received more than 95 percent of the vote. Over 25 million votes were cast, according to Ahram. Many Christians hope the election of Sisi will bring greater protections from violent attacks and that they will see their rights as Egyptians respected.
While there was little doubt that recently retired Field Marshall Abdel Fattah El-Sisi would win, there are mixed expectations about his ability to restore stability to the deeply divided country.
With many Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists boycotting the elections, voting was extended for a third day, as voter turnout was a concern.
There were reports of intimidation and threats by Islamists to keep voters away from the polls. Muslim Brotherhood supporters threw rocks at the homes of Christians and set fire to tires in front of St George Church in Delga village, church leaders told International Christian Concern (ICC). The mob was chanting slogans against Christians, the Coptic Pope, and the military, hoping to intimidate and keep voters from making it to the polls.
During Mohammed Morsi’s year of rule, he sought to further Islamize the country, advancing the interests of his Muslim Brotherhood supporters at the expense of Egypt as a whole, and the Christian community in particular. In the wake of his removal, in which Sisi was a leading figure, Egypt witnessed the worst attacks on Christians the country has seen in centuries.
An end to the attacks?
Sisi’s role in the removal of Morsi and as leader of the Egyptian armed forces gave him an aura of “saviour” and defender of the Christians. Egypt’s Christians were often the targets of much of the violence that swept the country as Islamist retaliated after Morsi was removed from office.
This is one of the reasons why Christians have largely put their support behind Sisi, Mahmoud Farouk, Executive Director of the Egyptian Center for Public Policy Studies (ECPPS), told ICC. “Many Christians, and even Muslims, think that Sisi saved them from the Islamic groups and he is the hero and saviour that we are all waiting for,” said Farouk. “In Egypt you have to choose from two choices: Military or Islamist. So, if I am Christian, for sure I’ll choose the military even if I don’t like them,” he continued.
The experience with Islamists was awful for Egypt’s Christians, and it was even more costly to see it end. “The Christian paid a precious price to remove the Muslim Brotherhood. Their properties were looted, destroyed and burnt. Many churches were burnt, destroyed and demolished,” Father Youannis Shawky, a priest from Minya province, told ICC.
“I support El-Sisi,” Shawky continued. “He was a divine providence to save the Egyptians from the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood and I think that El-Sisi is capable of ending the chaos in Egypt and ensuring equality among all Egyptians,” Shawky told ICC.
Abdel Malak Rizk, a Christian from Assiut, listed several hopes he has for the new president, foremost among them being security. “We hope the new president will defend and protect the Christians in Egypt. We are hoping we’ll be better protected from the violence,” Rizk told ICC.
Not all Christians have been so optimistic. During the interim period, while attacks on churches have slowed, kidnappings and other violent attacks have persisted and the security forces have been either unable or unwilling to stop them.
Hany Farouk, a Christian from Sohag in Upper Egypt, told ICC, “I’m pessimistic. I fear our situation may go from bad to worse after El-Sisi is elected because the supporters of Muslim Brotherhood consider that the Christians supported El-Sisi in the presidential election. So after the success of El-Sisi, the attacks against Christians, their properties and churches in Egypt will be increased to take revenge on the Christians, to incite the sectarian strife between Muslims and Christians, to weaken Egypt, and to show to the whole world that El-Sisi failed to protect the Egyptian Christians.”
While this is a possibility, Mahmoud Farouk of ECPPS, thinks for the short term it will not be the case. “I don’t think there will be attacks as big as last August in the short term. In the long term, it might come back again, but not now,” Farouk said. “The Islamists will keep their feeling of blaming the Christians for what is happening to them.”
Trying to overcome the deep divisions in the country is among the biggest challenges facing Sisi in his presidency.
“We Feel that Egypt has Become Our Homeland Again”
The long series of events dating back to January 25, 2011 and the removal of Hosni Mubarak to the present have left many in Egypt worn out. The aspirations they had for a more democratic country seemed to have been hijacked by the Islamists, leaving the country more deeply divided.
Ezzat Ibrahim, Director of the Word Center for Human Rights in Minya and Assiut, told ICC, “We thank God for the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood. They have been rejected by the entire nation, Muslims and Christians. All the people have known that they are false and terrorists and the rule of them was not designed to serve the interest of the country but to serve the interests of their organization only,” Ibrahim said.
“Now we are optimistic and we feel that Egypt has become our homeland again and it will be a safe and peaceful country and a country for all Egyptians without discrimination,” said Ibrahim.
The discrimination in Egypt has shown up in many facets of society, from blasphemy laws, to rebuilding churches, to the economy. “We are so persecuted in Egypt because we are Christians. We are treated as second class citizens and denied jobs,” Rizk told ICC.
In addition to hopes for greater security, “We also hope that the new president can ensure the equal rights and equality of job opportunities, and we hope that there won’t be discrimination against Christians,” Rizk continued.
Making this reality in Egypt will be a long process. While Sisi promised to take many of the right steps in his campaign, he still must make them happen during his presidency.
“I support him because he has promised us that he will do his best to serve the Egyptian citizen and eliminate the illiteracy and he will combat the terrorism in Egypt and defend the Christians [and] the church. He also has promised the youth that he will create new jobs for them,” Nariman Gaber, a Christian woman in Cairo told ICC.
“I feel that he will achieve his promises to all Egyptians,” Gaber said.
The election is just a step on a very long road, but there is hope that it will produce a safer and freer country for Egypt’s Christians, and for all Egyptians.