Experts on the persecution of Egyptian Christians report that although life under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is better for Christians than past presidents, believers continue to face persecution and violence at the hands of radical Muslims who evade arrest and prosecution. When mobs of radical Muslims attack Christians, none of them get arrested, said Coptic Christian leader Samuel Tadros. Instead, the victims of violence are arrested by police. “Not a single person has been convicted or spent time in jail for attacking Christians,” said Tadros, who spoke at a Zoom conference hosted by In Defence of Christians, an advocacy group for Middle Eastern Christians. “They will execute ISIS fighters for attacking Christians, but not Muslims. When it comes to mob attacks we have had a complete failure by government,” he stressed.
Recently, a radical Muslim mob stripped an elderly Christian woman naked and dragged her through the streets. Egypt’s courts acquitted the men who led the mob. Even though such incidents are common, Egypt’s present government under al-Sisi has a better record of protecting Christians than former president Hosni Mubarak or the Muslim Brotherhood, Tadros said. Al-Sisi’s government presents a strange mixture of public support and private indifference to Christians, conference speakers said. Al-Sisi, a Muslim, has attended services at a Coptic cathedral, signed new legislation that registered churches with the government and built a Coptic Christian cathedral with government money. Al-Sisi’s church registration program however has made it challenging for churches to get licenses approved and difficult for Christians to build new churches.
“Egyptian bureaucracy is infamous for moving slowly, but the church program has accepted only a third of applicants. Church registration is far less proportional than mosques in the country.” Even al-Sisi’s cathedral is not really a Coptic cathedral, said Tadros. It has been built in the desert, not where you can worship, and doesn’t have a Coptic name. “Copts name cathedrals after saints but the name of the cathedral was chosen by the Egyptian president.” Kurt Werthmuller, a policy analyst with a particular emphasis on religious freedom, brought up the detention of Christian rights activist Ramy Kamel. “He is being kept in pre-trial detention charged with colluding with a terror organization to spread false information, said Werthmuller. “He has spent most of his time in solitary confinement but in the past couple of months his health has been deteriorating.”
Werthmuller said Egypt should be doing better on religious freedom. “Egypt has tremendous potential. Its people are amazing, it has resources. We shouldn’t settle for what we now have as enough,” Werthmuller said. Mark M. Yarbrough, a professor of Bible Exposition at DTS, said he recently visited Christian leaders in Egypt. While there, he met with a group of about 60 to 70 Protestant leaders who told him, “things are much better for us as Christians now than they have been in Egypt for a long time.” “Even though there’s violence against Christians in parts of Egypt, that’s a matter of just administrative realities,” he said. “Some areas are inherently more violent than other because the government doesn’t have the power to oversee all that’s going on across the whole country.”
Yarbrough noted that the improvement in conditions for Christians was “huge” and “better than it’s ever been for that generation.” Yarbrough also discussed how while only about 10% of the country was Christian and barely 1% were evangelical Protestant, they had made considerable social gains. “The group that we met with are very influential leaders. They’re not hidden in the background. They’re very public figures,” he explained. “Many are serving in strategic positions of office. There is a growing role for the Church, with the positioning of evangelical leaders within governmental structures.” Yarbrough found it significant to see Christians in strategic positions interacting with other leaders from different religious backgrounds. Yarbrough also met Coptic Pope Tawadros II, who they said was interested in ecumenical cooperation and biblical education.
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