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When Abdel Fattah el Sisi seized power and became Egypt’s president in 2013, roughly 8 million Coptic Christians thought they’d found a new champion in their struggle for equality in the majority Muslim country.

Sisi promised to tame radical Islam and crack down on jihadists. Pope Tawadros, the head of the Coptic Christian Church, and the rest of the church hierarchy were firmly in Sisi’s corner. Tawadros even referred to Sisi as a “savior” and “hero.”

Rank-and-file Copts who had reservations about Sisi knew that at least he’d be better for them than his Muslim Brotherhood predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, whose government presided over a series of attacks on Coptic Christians, their churches and homes.

But a terrorist attack on Sunday cast a stark light on the increasingly strained relationship between the Copts and the Sisi regime. Many Copts believe Sisi has focused most of his efforts on optics — public gestures meant to mollify Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population — while refusing to do anything to help make them equal citizens in their own country.



Last Sunday’s attack left at least 25 people dead and 65 injured. Most of them were women. It took place at St. Peter and St. Paul Church, which are adjacent to the Coptic Papal Seat of St. Mark’s Cathedral. An equivalent attack for Catholics would happen at St. Peters at the Vatican or for Muslims at Mecca.

An angry crowd at the scene was said to be shouting epithets against Sisi, whose negligence they blamed for the attack.

Sisi’s government has frequently failed to investigate or prosecute crimes against Christians. Earlier this year a mob paraded a naked 70-year-old Christian woman in the streets because her son had allegedly had an affair with a Muslim woman. The perpetrators were arrested but soon released. There are numerous examples of Coptic priests and nuns being attacked seemingly with impunity.

Copts are generally treated like second-class citizens in Egypt. New legislation makes if more difficult for them to build churches, and they complain that they face discrimination in the job market and that there are few Copts in the highest levels of government or academia.

Sisi’s government hasn’t done much to address any of these concerns, Copts say. Coptic Solidarity, an advocacy group in Virginia, states in a press release that while an “overwhelming majority of Copts strongly supported President Sisi and his efforts to stabilize Egypt through combatting terrorism … their support has worn out as they come to realize that their dhimmi-like situation under Sisi’s rule is actually no better, if not worse, than under Mubarak.”

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The group has complained about the “culture of impunity” surrounding attacks on Copts. No wonder the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom still lists Egypt as a “country of particular concern” in respect to religious liberty.

So what has Sisi done for the Copts? Not much, other than appearing at their Christmas celebrations in Cairo the last two years and making public statements in support of the Coptic community. On Monday Sisi and other government officials attended a state funeral for the victims of Sunday’s bombing. Sisi led a procession to the funeral site.

But these public gestures haven’t been accompanied by substantial reforms. “He just gives good feelings,” Coptic Bishop Makarios of Minya said recently of Sisi. “But these feelings need to be translated into actions.”

All of this has left many Coptic Christians with a deepening sense of disillusionment about Sisi, who has placed the Copts in a difficult position. He portrays himself as the Copts’ champion, which only makes them more a target of the Islamists. But in the end, the only thing he’s really prepared to lead is their funeral processions.

Daniel Allott is deputy commentary editor for the Washington Examiner

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