Egypt’s Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas

Friday 08/01/2016
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) speaks during Egypt’s Coptic Christmas Eve mass led by Pope Tawadros II (L), in Cairo, on January 6th.

Cairo - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s visit to the Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo during Christmas celebrations was an indi­cation of the unprecedented level of political empowerment Egypt’s Christians are enjoying.
Christians won 36 seats in the 2015 elections for the new legisla­ture, marking the highest represen­tation in Egyptian political history and they say they plan to quickly act with that new power.
Suzy Nashid, a Christian mem­ber of the new parliament, said she plans to propose legislation that would give Christians the right, for the first time, to build new church­es and renovate old ones.
“This legislation is very impor­tant for the Christians of this coun­try,” Nashid said. “It is about equal­ity with Egypt’s Muslims.”
“Christians are particularly hap­py when they feel that they are be­ing defended by their Muslim com­patriots,” said Medhat Zaki, a priest from Cairo. “This gives us the feel­ing that we are not alone.”
Some 95% of Egypt’s Chris­tians, who make up about 10% of the population of 90 million, are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which marked Christmas on January 7th.
Christian writer Kamal Zakher said Christians felt safer after the downfall of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood government in July 2013,
“Sectarian tensions remarkably decreased after the Brotherhood was gone,” he said. “This made Christians feel safer.”
Although they were considered more moderate than other Islam­ist groups, the Muslim Brother­hood championed most of the anti-Christian rhetoric heard after the 2011 revolution in Egypt. When the group was removed from pow­er in 2013 by the army after mass protests, Brotherhood affiliates and sympathisers were accused of torching scores of churches throughout Egypt.
During his Christmas Eve visit, Sisi apologised to Egypt’s Chris­tians for not renovating or rebuild­ing churches burned by Muslim Brotherhood supporters. He said his government would renovate the churches during 2016.
The January 6th trip to St Mark’s Orthodox Cathedral was the second time Sisi participated in Christmas celebrations at the Coptic Orthodox church. In 2015, he became the first Egyptian president to attend Cop­tic Christmas services.
Ultra-orthodox Salafists, who have a political party and are al­lowed to preach in mosques, still continue to express anti-Christian sentiments. Salafist preachers said Muslims should not congratulate Christians on Christmas.
But Christian politicians, such as Nashid, said those voices belong to the past. She expressed confidence that the future will hold more em­powerment for the country’s Chris­tians.
Several Muslim politicians con­tested the same seat as Nashid, indicating that her election win showed a lessening of the political marginalisation of Christians.
“Religious discrimination is on the way out,” Nashid said. “My suc­cess and the success of other Chris­tian candidates in the elections are tantamount to a political transfor­mation.”