June 05, 2019
Ramadan may seem like an interesting time to talk about the persecution of Christians, but Egyptian president Abdel Fatah el-Sisi is not your typical Muslim leader. His desire to advance religious tolerance in the Middle East is a unique agenda among his peers. And Sunday, after World Coptic Day, he took time out to talk about the plight of the dwindling population.
"Strong religion could be weakened by its believers' behaviors," el-Sisi said during a ceremony for Laylat al-Qadr. "When we wish our Christian brothers a happy feast or [congratulate them] on building new churches, we represent our religion," Egypt Today quotes him as saying. "There is a big difference between practicing and understanding the religion," he pointed out.
His country's goal, el-Sisi insisted, should be to "preserve the essence of religion, to raise the moderate religious awareness, and combat the extremist threats among the youth." Open dialogue, he persisted, is the best way to fight extremism. That's good news for Egypt's Coptics, National Review's Marlo Safi explains, since they face "daily discrimination; their churches often face attacks from mobs, or they are not permitted to participate in government or even soccer teams due to their conspicuously Christian names."
Twice now, I've had the opportunity to travel to Egypt and witness el-Sisi's sincerity on the issue in my role on the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom. As part of a delegation of evangelical leaders, we attended the inauguration of the Cathedral of the Nativity (the largest in the Middle East) outside of Cairo and the inauguration of the Al-Fattah Al-Aleem Mosque just five miles away. That's just one sign that conditions have improved significantly under the current government. Sunday's speech is another.
Although Egypt's understanding may fall short of the West's on issues like religious freedom, there's optimism among Christians that the country can take even greater strides under the el-Sisi administration. I'm hopeful with encouragement from the Trump administration that we'll see even more reasons for Egyptian Christians and other religious minorities to celebrate in the future. Let's be diligent to pray for them and others in this part of the world who suffer for their faith.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.