CAIRO : Cairo’s St. Mark Cathedral shook with warm intense applause that continued for over two minutes after Pope Tawadros II expressed appreciation for presidential candidate Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s visit to the cathedral during the April 19 Easter liturgy.
Many experts believe the warm applause, which dwarfed a cordial but restrained welcome of Presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, reflects Coptic support for Sisi during the upcoming presidential elections.
As an institution, the Coptic Church announced it would not endorse a particular candidate, although a number of Coptic figures have used religious terms to express their support for Sisi.
They said they view Sisi as a savior who saved the country from the rule of extremists, in reference to former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. They believe that the majority of Copts’ views are aligned with the position adopted by the church.
Sisi was a “divine providence to save Egypt” from the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, said Bishop Paula, deputy chairperson of Coptic Clerical Council, to Al-Sabah news website on April 20. He added, “This is my point of view.
The church does not compel its followers to support a specific candidate.” He also praised the “boldness” of Hamdeen Sabbahi for competing against Sisi’s increasing popularity.
The bishop represented the Coptic Church in the 50-member committee that drafted the recent constitutional amendments, passed in January’s referendum.
In a press statement made during an ongoing visit to the UAE Coptic Patriarch Pope Tawadros II said the church would not support a specific candidate during the upcoming presidential elections, adding that the candidates would present their programs on which the citizens, Muslims or Copts, would vote.
Indeed, Coptic author Soliman Shafiq rejected the notion that all Christians support Sisi.
In a May 5 statement on his Facebok page, he noted that the military had reneged on its commitments to renovate the demolished churches in Upper Egypt’s governorates.
Supporters of Mohamed Morsi had attacked dozens of churches in different governorates following the dispersal of the pro-Muslim Brotherhood Rabaa al-Adaweya and Nahda Square sit-ins. Upper Egyptian areas like Minya were particularly affected and the military had pledged to rebuild and renovate affected churches.
Shafiq claimed the Engineering Authority of the Armed Forces renovated the Rabaa al-Adaweya Mosque following its dispersal but “ignored” Copts who were thus forced to celebrate Easter “in the ruins of their churches.”
Salafi Nour Party
Many Copts expressed anxiety over a rapprochement between Sisi and Salafis, in light of a campaign launched by the Nour Party to endorse his candidacy.
Coptic intellectual Kamal Ghobrial told The Cairo Post Sunday that dissolving religious parties is a “necessary” top priority to pave the path towards unification of the country’s education and the consequent elimination of terrorist ideas that dominate the mentality of extremists.
The Salafi Nour party itself has been attacked by many who cite Article 74 of the constitution, which bans religious parties. Coptic activist Medhat Kelada filed a lawsuit to ban the Nour Party on Jan. 18, and said in a press statement that the Administrative Court was scheduled to take a decision in June.
Conversely, Bishop Paula praised the rapprochement between Sisi and the Salafis, saying, “It came in the framework of his cordial relations with different categories of Egyptian people.” He added that Sisi is a religious person but “does not adopt the extremist approach.”
Paula’s vision corresponds to the recent statement issued by leading member of Nour Party Nader Bakar who described Sisi as an Islamist candidate. He said in an interview with Al-Hayat Satellite Channel that while the presidential candidate did affiliate himself with any Islamist movements, he adopts the Islamic thoughts of the Egyptian people.
New Sadat era
“We could face a new era of discrimination like what happened during the term of former President Anwar Sadat,” said Yosab Abadeer, a Coptic dentist.
He described the relation between the Nour Party and Sisi as a deal in which the Islamist party would support the roadmap in return for the maintenance of their place on Egypt’s political scene.
He told The Cairo Post the matter is not limited to rapprochement between Sisi and the Nour Party, but extends to the religious speech adopted by the presidential runner.
He added that Sisi repeated the phrase, “As a Muslim” during his interview last week with CBC and ONTV satellite channels to promote himself as a “believer president.”
Former President Anwar Sadat was keen to promote himself as a religious president. His rule witnessed a number of clashes between the church and the state due to violence committed against Copts. Many experts blamed the then sectarian atmosphere in the country on Sadat’s allowing of extremists to perform a political role.
Ghobrial described the Islamic tone witnessed in Sisi’s electoral speech as disturbing. He added, “I think that while he will not adopt a hostile approach against the Copts, he will not allow them to participate in political life.”