Egypt's Christians regret support for President Al-Sisi

There is not a single Christian or church remaining in the Egyptian city of Qumans, formerly known by the name of Coma, in the central province of Beni Suef. It was there, in 251 AD, that Saint Anthony the Great was born. He is celebrated as one of the so-called Desert Fathers and  regarded as the founder of Christian monasticism.
 
Coptic Orthodox Christian leaders of the region of decried the large internal migration flows in recent years, which has led to the departure of the last Christian families living in the area of Qumans. According to local tradition, some of the farm land in the area belonged to descendants of Saint Anthony's relatives. It had been hoped that the construction of a shrine at the site as a place of pilgrimage. 
 
Coptic Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox, largely supported the rise of the supposedly secular Egyptian government led by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Anti-Christian persecution peaked under former President Muhammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, continuing until his June 2013 downfall. Coptic Christians, moderate Muslims, and human rights advocates had hoped that a secular government under Sisi (who was elected in June 2014) would prove to be more liberal. However, curbs on the press and free expression under Sisi have also impacted Christian Egyptians. According to analyst Raymond Ibrahim, "Most Coptic Christians will tell you that anything is better than the Muslim Brotherhood. Thus, the unequivocal support for current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi among Copts was no surprise. But now with the devastating curb of freedom of expression and the widespread crackdown on journalists and activists, the Coptic Orthodox Church’s support for the government’s post-June 30 Revolution policies may prove to be a grave miscalculation."
 
Besides the departure of Christians from Qumans, other signs of friction between Christians and Muslims was the recent imprisonment of a 23-year-old Coptic Christian teacher for alleged insults to Islam. Also, a reporter who had converted from Islam to Christianity was sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly reporting false information about discrimination against Copts. In addition, a 29-year-old Coptic Christian was recently given a five-year prison sentence for liking a Facebook page put up by a group of Christian converts. 
 
Christians throughout the Mideast are under assault. In Iraq, Christians who had lived in Mosul for two millenia have left after receiving death threats and demands for conversion to Islam by the wave of Sunni Muslim insurgents. In Mosul, an Orthodox cathedral was desecrated by Muslim marauders this month: the cross at the summit of its dome was taken down and replaced by the black flag of Islam. Also in Mosul, supporters of the so-called Caliphate set fire to a Syriac Catholic church, while a monastery where both Christian and Muslim children had taken shelter was also seized by Muslim militants. Properties owned by Christians, including their homes, were seized by Muslims. In response, Lebanese Catholic Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai asked last week, “What are the moderate Muslims saying?”, “We do not hear the voices of those who denounce this.”


Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

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