CAIRO: President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s visit to Cairo’s Abbasiya Cathedral Tuesday to attend the Coptic Christmas Mass was predominantly jubilantly received by Egyptians, although some recalled the 2011 “Maspero massacre” where 28, mostly Copts, were killed by military forces.
An Arabic hashtag that translates to “you are a leader, Sisi” has been tweeted 14,486 times, and the hashtag “Sisi in the Cathedral” has been tweeted 3,609 times.
The two hashtags were accompanied with pictures of a cross and a crescent, a 19th century symbol of Egypt’s national solidarity against the British imperialism, and has since been used to assert unity between Egypt’s two religions.
Muslim Brotherhood supporters, however, were not a part of the mainstream, as they perceived Sisi’s unprecedented gesture as “another proof” of the “Christian dominance” over Egypt.
@TheSecular wrote “the surprise made people feel that Sisi’s visit to the cathedral today is like [President Anwar] Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem!”
Before Sisi, no Egyptian president ever attended the Coptic Christmas Mass celebrated Jan. 7.
@George_Sabry wrote “greeting messages I received in an hour are more than those I received all day and on the New Year and on my birthday two days ago. Must those above (the presidency) tell you to?”
Meanwhile, activist Sherif Azer wrote on Facebook “I understood from tweets and statuses now that apparently Sisi scored against Inter Milan.”
He also wrote “Christians are really so kind and naïve, and the religious teaching make them that compromising and nice and were over the moon with Sisi’s visit. You won’t ever take your rights in this damn country.”
The Maspero “massacre” was committed while the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, in which Sisi was a member, was in power. Christians protesters demonstrated outside Maspero, the Cairo headquarters of the state TV, in objection to the demolition of an unlicensed church. No one has yet been held accountable for the deaths.
@ibmeguid wrote “Copts are entitled to be happy with Sisi’s visit to the Cathedral after 40 years of marginalization and persecution. We are entitled to be happy with an official step against extremism.”
“The truth is, after Sisi’s visit today, the Coptic memory of an attack on a church every Mass will change into [a memory of] a joyful visit. Do not think it is too much for them,” @monzomad wrote.
Dozens of churches were attacked and hundreds of Copts were harassed in several governorates, especially in Upper Egypt, in the aftermath of the bloody dispersal of Cairo Islamist sit-ins calling for President Mohamed Morsi’s reinstatement in August 2013.
On the New Year Eve of 2011, at least 21 people were killed when a car bomb detonated outside an Alexandria church, an attack still mourned by Egyptians.
“It’s enough that all Egyptians listen to the Mass every year together. We are all Egyptian and there isn’t anything [to describe us] than this, except by a sick riff-raff minority existent in all the world,” @LMagraby wrote.
@essamheggy wrote “Happy new year to all Copts. Proud of every church and Christian on the land of my home.”
@hanyisaac wrote “[All of this joy,] then, what are you gonna do if Sisi visited the atheist café on Darwin’s birthday?” referring to a café downtown that was shut down for allegedly being a hub for atheists.
Pro-Brotherhood websites, such as Egypt Window, reported that Sisi’s visit aims to “change the identity” of the Egyptian people, especially that his visit was met with a mutual welcome that “was not witnessed” in his visit to Al-Azhar earlier on the occasion of the Birth of the Prophet.
On Jan. 2, Sisi called on Islamic scholars to begin a “religious revolution” by re-examining centuries-old ideologies.
After Sisi’s departure, the Cathedral was also visited by the prime minister and several other ministers, the intelligence chief and Al-Azhar scholars.