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Egypt’s troubles escalate as terrorism undermines any recovery

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The North Africa Journal – April 9, 2017 – At least 36 people were killed today (April 9, 2017) in two attacks against Coptic churches in Egypt.  The attacks, which took place in Alexandria and Tanta, were claimed by ISIS and coincided with Palm Sunday, and following the visit of President Sisi to the United States. The attacks were a continuation of a deliberate targeting of the Copts, including members of that community in the restive Sinai Peninsula, most of whom are poor and unprotected farmers.

The death toll is likely to rise as scores of worshipers sustained injuries. The targeted churches were Tanta’s St George’s Church, located less than two hours north of Cairo, and where 25 people were reported dead.   Another group of 11 people was also killed outside Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria. Sources say Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic church was inside Saint Mark’s during the attack but he was not hurt.  Shortly after the attack, the government reported that the police thwarted a suicide attack on Saint Mark’s, when they intercepted a man carrying an explosive belt.

The targeting of the Copts has escalated with the rise of President Sisi, and expanded significantly over the past two months.  After the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, many in the Coptic population felt the new regime would provide a safer environment for the Orthodox Christian minority, which accounts for 10% of the Egyptian population.  But the euphoria turned sour very quickly as Islamist extremists saw the Copts acceptance of Sisi and rejection of Morsi as an endorsement of the repressive methods used by Sisi on the general population, and the Islamists in particular. These attacks against the Copts can be seen as retaliatory and efforts by extremist militants to show that Sisi is not in control.

These incidents have also had negative effects on inter-faith relations in Egypt. Any little and insignificant feud involving members of the two communities (Muslims and Christians), such as teenage romance involving kids of the two groups or a simple disagreement over the ownership of a tree often turn into a communal war of a religious and political dimension.

But what is to be learned here (or confirm) is that the believe that the current regime is Egypt’s salvation is an entirely misplaced assumption. The Egyptian government has lost all credibility in terms of solving any and all issues facing Egypt today. On the economic front, the country is bankrupt and whatever loans by the billions that the government is borrowing will not have the intended effect on the country whatsoever. On the security front, bringing peace to Egypt will not happen under Sisi. This is because there is no political track to bring a consensus on the way forward. Sisi, with the support of his allies and friends, insist on using repression to seek the stabilization of Egypt. But this is not going to happen if 99% of the Egyptian population is sidelined and repressed. Including the Coptic minority which must know by now that the Sisi regime cannot protect it.

Profile photo of Redouane Benmehdi

Redouane is a Senior Contributor with the North Africa Journal. He joined NAJ in 2008, focusing on a broad range of issues, including human, social and labor issues. A native of Hammam-Sousse in Tunisia, Redouane shuttles between Boston and Tunis. He can be reached at journal@north-africa.com