Ripple effects in Cairo from ISIS attacks on Christians
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.”