Ripple effects in Cairo from ISIS attacks on Christians

March 05, 2017
Displaced. Egyptian Coptic Christians arrive with their belongings to take refuge at a church in the city of Ismailiya, on February 25th

Cairo - The displacement of Chris­tian residents of North Si­nai after the Islamic State (ISIS) started systemati­cally attacking them has led to unprecedented Christian an­ger and potential withdrawal of sup­port for the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

“State protection of the Chris­tians is far below the required level,” Christian rights advocate Naguib Gabriel said. “Most Christians feel that the government is only pay­ing them lip service when it comes to the need to protect them against radical groups.”

ISIS violence has created the first internal displacement crisis in Egypt’s 3-year war against the group, with scores of Christian fami­lies seeking refuge outside Sinai in the past few months.

Christian families fled the North Sinai cities of El Arish and Sheikh Zuweid after ISIS killed eight co-religionists, including a father and a son whose home in El Arish they set on fire with the corpses inside. The targeting of North Sinai’s Christians came two months after ISIS bombed a Cairo cathedral, killing 26 Chris­tians.

ISIS had threatened in a video that it would target Christians, who threw their weight behind Sisi when he led the army in ousting Islamist president Muhammad Morsi in July 2013.

Gabriel’s assessment that the au­thorities do not do enough to pro­tect Christians could be cause for argument, especially with Sisi hav­ing taken personal responsibility for the protection of Egypt’s Christian minority, which is 10% of the total population of 92 million.

Sisi has attended Christian cel­ebrations, addressed Christians as equal members of society and sup­ports construction of churches. He sponsored drafting a law allowing the building of churches for the first time in Egypt’s modern history. Sisi also donated money for the con­struction of the first church in a new administrative capital the govern­ment is creating on the outskirts of Cairo.

This may explain why official Christian discourse lacks the critical fervour of statements by activists such as Gabriel.

Soon after Christian families fled ISIS in North Sinai, the Coptic Or­thodox Church said it was confident the authorities were doing whatever they could to defend Christian citi­zens but some Christians said they feel abandoned by both church and state.

Gabriel said Egypt’s Christians were in danger. One of the people fleeing the violence in North Sinai told a private TV network that Chris­tians were left to fend for them­selves while troops were defending themselves against repeated ISIS attacks.

Political analyst Ammar Ali Has­san said, apart from causing per­sonal humiliation to Sisi in targeting the Christians, ISIS stokes Christian anger and drives a wedge between them and the person they strongly backed since he came to power al­most three years ago.

“This is why I say the Christian North Sinai calamity may have far-reaching effects on future internal alliances in our country,” Hassan said. “If the authorities do not act quickly to contain Christian anger, Christians may be forced to rethink their support to Sisi, which will much weaken him in his internal struggles.”

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