Egypt’s Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas
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.”