By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife)– Egyptian Christians hope Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who was sworn in Sunday, June 8, as the country’s new president, will combat Islamic extremism and release those jailed or kidnapped for expressing faith in Christ or support for Israel.
Al-Sisi gained more than 93 percent in last month’s vote, but turnout was just 46 percent, according to published figures, as Islamist and some secular groups boycotted the poll.
“The retired field marshal is extremely popular with Christians and other Egyptians who opposed the Islamist regime that he removed,” said Barnabas Fund, an aid and advocacy group working in Islamic
“They see him as a strong leader who will protect them from violence and uphold their rights. Christians in particular suffered greatly under Mohammed Morsi’s rule and were scapegoated by his supporters for the Islamist’s ouster in July 2013.”
It was not immediately clear what impact, if any, al-Sisi’s election would have on the imprisonment of Christians in Egypt, including Kerolos Shouky Attallah, of Al-Mahamid village near southern Luxor city. The 29-year-old man was detained for “liking” on a Facebook website page run by converts from Islam.
He was detained after Muslims on May 28 printed and distributed leaflets telling followers of Islam “You will not be men if you don’t kick him out of your village.”
In response, Attallah “unliked” the page by clicking the site button, but the next day villagers attacked his house forcing police came to arrest Attallah, Christians said. All Muslims who attacked Attallah’s house were reportedly released without charge.
On June 2, a mob of angry Muslims reportedly torched Christian-owned shops in Luxor, an incident Christians linked to Ghattas detention.
Earlier in March news emerged that a 24-year-old for openly “loving Israel”.
He was detained after he “made contact with Israelis through his Facebook page, and he clicked ‘like’ on the [Israeli security service] Mossad’s Facebook page,” authorities said at the time.
Christians and rights activists say they hope that after having overseen a tough crackdown on the radical Muslim Brotherhood group, which was outlawed, he will improve religious rights.
Around 16,000 people have been detained and over 1,400 killed in the crackdown, according to Barnabas Fund estimates.
Dozens of the group’s leaders are facing trial on charges of inciting violence and supporting foreign terrorist organisations. In a pre-election interview, al-Sisi said that the Brotherhood would be “finished” under his rule.
“But Islamist extremists remain a security threat, especially in Sinai, where they have launched numerous attacks. And the Christian community is continuing to suffer violence, especially kidnappings for ransom or forced conversion to Islam,” Barnabas Fund told BosNewsLife.
“In Minya province alone, where Islamists remain strong, 90 kidnap cases have been recorded in the Christian community over the last year.”
Concerns remain about a possible spike in anti-Christian violence. “The Muslim Brotherhood may vent
their anger against the vulnerable minority, blaming them for al-Sisi’s victory as they did for the ouster of Morsi,”Barnabas Fund commented.
On Sunday, June 8, al-Sisi vowed to tackle “terrorism” and bring security, after being sworn in as president. The former army chief said his election was “a historic moment”, and pledged no reconciliation with those who had “committed violence”.
He also pledged that all citizens “will be treated equally” and Christians look forward to the implementation of the country’s new constitution, which for the first time guarantees them “absolute” freedom of belief, Christian activists said.
The constitution seeks to rectify restrictions on church buildings to ensure that Christians can “perform their religious rites freely”. After more than three years of instability following the first revolution, “many Egyptians are craving security and also improved living standards” as the economic crisis has deepened by political and social turmoil,” Barnabas Fund added.
Christians, also known as Copts in Egypt, comprise roughly 10 percent of the country’s 87-million people, who are mainly Sunni-Muslims.