Why is the State Dept Undermining President Trump’s Egypt Policy?

Front Page Magazine, by Daniel Greenfield, Aug. 23, 2017:

President Trump has been very clear that he wants to pivot away from Obama’s backing for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. And the Arab Spring’s whole democratization program.

Senator McCain has been equally clear that he wants to double down on it.

Guess whom the State Department is listening to?

Egypt passed a law restricting foreign funding of NGOs. Egypt joins a number of countries, including Hungary, Poland and Israel, that are working to curb the influence of the Leftist/Islamist network which operates internationally through non-profit NGOs. Each such effort has led to hysteria and angry threats from the political figures associated with those networks.

Now the State Department is taking action against Egypt over the NGO law.

Officials said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had decided to withhold $65.7 million in military assistance and $30 million in economic aid to Egypt that has been on hold since fiscal 2014, the officials said. That money will be reprogrammed, meaning it will now be sent to other countries, they said.

At the same time, the officials said Rex Tillerson had signed a waiver saying that $195 million in military assistance to Egypt is in the U.S. national interest but had decided to hold off on spending it. Under federal law, Tillerson had until the end of this fiscal year, Sept. 30, to either sign the waiver, certify that Egypt is meeting the human rights conditions or return the money to the Treasury. The waiver gives Egypt additional time to meet the requirements for the $195 million, which Congress appropriated for fiscal year 2016.

When Trump met with el-Sissi in the White House in April he made no mention of Egypt’s human rights record in the post-meeting statement, an omission that many took as a sign that the issue was not a priority for the administration. Yet, two months later, two senators from Trump’s Republican Party slammed as “draconian” the law that effectively bans the work of non-governmental organizations and urged that it be repealed.

Can you guess who those 2 senators are?

Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham called it “draconian legislation” and they said the US Congress should in response “strengthen democratic benchmarks and human rights conditions on the US assistance to Egypt.”

US Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, and nine other senators sent Trump a letter on June 19 urging the president to press Sisi on the issue.

Unless I missed something, President John McCain is not in the White House. So why is Tillerson listening to him instead of to Trump?

According to Egyptian officials, this is an effort to stem funding to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Alaa Abed, chairman of the Free Egyptian Party’s parliamentary bloc, told The Daily Caller in a recent interview that although the idea behind NGOs is charitable and very needed in his country, a good number of them have taken a wrong turn.

“And the proof of that are the billions that have been given to these NGOs without any noticeable results that you can see,” Abed said.

According to Abed, about 48,000 NGOs are in Egypt and some are supported by the state. Of that number, though, “Only 500 receive foreign funds and 10 operate within the norms of the law…the rest (490) take the money into their pockets and 30 or 40 use the money to transfer to the [Muslim Brotherhood] or small terror cells.”

It obviously also starves some leftist NGOs of funds.

Why is McCain so agitated over it? The media won’t tell you. Few sources will.

But McCain chairs the International Republican Institute. The IRI was a Reagan idea to fight Communism. It’s since gone way off course and was involved in the Arab Spring. Sam LaHood was at the center of it. The international advisory board includes Mo Ibrahim whose daughter is a board member of the Clinton Foundation.

The question here is who is running the country. Whom did American vote for?

It was Trump who was running against nation building. Particularly of the ugly kind we’re seeing here. But Tillerson is obeying President McCain instead of President Trump. Our foreign policy is still being made by the same old people. That’s why the Iran deal is in place (and has not been made public), it’s why Israel is still being pressured to make concessions to terrorists and there’s yet more pressure on Egypt’s President Sisi to open the door to the same folks who brought you the Arab Spring.

It’s why Tillerson backed the Muslim Brotherhood’s backers in Qatar while Trump initially backed pressure on the terror state.

T o change the outcome, you have to change the policy. To change the policy, you have to change the people. Under McMaster and Tillerson, the foreign policy will be set by President McCain, not President Trump.

***

Also see:

In Egypt, Clashes Between The Institution Of The Presidency And The Institution Of Al-Azhar

MEMRI, By: C. Meital, Aug. 21, 2017:

Introduction

Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, the most important institute of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, and its head, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayeb, are currently facing a political and media attack led by the institute of the Egyptian presidency, headed by President ‘Abd Al-Fatah Al-Sisi. This is the latest episode in the past two years of ongoing tension between the two institutions, over Al-Azhar’s apparent refusal to comply with the president’s dictates in matters of religion.

One aspect of the attack on Al-Azhar is President Al-Sisi’s direct criticism of Al-Azhar Sheikh Al-Tayeb; another is criticism of Al-Azhar in the government press; and yet another is parliamentary moves led by Al-Sisi’s associates aimed at limiting the authorities of the Al-Azhar sheikh. There have also been calls for Sheikh Al-Tayeb himself to step down.

The main criticism against Al-Azhar is that the institution has failed to join the ideological war on terrorism that is led by President Al-Sisi. Critics say that Al-Azhar is not complying with Al-Sisi’s major goal, announced in 2014 and frequently reiterated by him, to promote a renewal of the religious discourse in Egypt, and also point out that it is refusing to level the accusation  of heresy against the Islamic State (ISIS), which has claimed responsibility for several terror attacks in the country.[1] It is also being said that Al-Azhar’s curricula encourage young people to turn to terrorism. In addition, there is criticism of Al-Azhar’s refusal to change how divorces are handled, as Al-Sisi has also demanded.

Al-Azhar representatives, headed by Sheikh Al-Tayeb, have rejected these criticisms, calling them deliberate lies that damage Islam. To show that it is indeed fulfilling its role and that it is a moderate Islamic institution, Al-Azhar has in recent months held international conventions on the subject of fighting extremism, as well as meetings with young people, and has waged anti-extremism and anti-terrorism campaigns.[2]

It should be noted that despite the harsh criticism of Al-Azhar, and of Sheikh Al-Tayeb, it still has the public’s sympathy, and significant support from many members of parliament.

This report will focus on the tension between the Egyptian presidency and Al-Azhar, as reflected in statements by the leaders of both institutions, in parliamentary activity against it,  and in articles in the Egyptian press.

Al-Azhar Institute (image: balkans.aljazeera.ne)

Tension Between President Al-Sisi And Al-Azhar Sheikh Al-Tayeb

As stated, in recent months it has become evident that there is considerable tension between President Al-Sisi and Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayeb, as reflected in the president’s criticism of the sheikh both in public and in closed meetings. Currently, the main criticism against Al-Azhar is that it is not making sufficient efforts to advance the renewal of religious discourse in Egypt, as Al-Sisi has demanded. 

President Al-Sisi Repeatedly Reprimands Al-Azhar Sheikh – And Reportedly Threatens To Replace Him There have been several Egyptian newspaper reports concerning President’s Al-Sisi’s displeasure with Al-Azhar’s lack of action on this issue; he has made this clear in individual meetings with Sheikh Al-Tayeb and at public events.

At January 1, 2015 festivities marking the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad at the Egyptian Ministry of Endowments, Al-Sisi said to Sheikh Al-Tayeb: “The preachers are responsible to Allah for the renewal of the religious discourse and for improving the image of Islam. [On Judgment Day,] I will argue against you before Allah [if you do not do this].”[3]

Following a November 30, 2016 meeting between the two, the independent Egyptian daily Al-Misriyyoun reported on their chilly relationship and noted that the president was furious at Al-Azhar’s failure to vehemently attack political Islam organizations, specifically ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and for its continuing aggressive anti-Shi’ite position.[4]

There are, however, only a few such reports; for the most part, Al-Sisi is careful to express respect for Al-Azhar while at the same time clarifying his position vis-à-vis how it functions. Thus, he told the editors of government newspapers in a May 2017 interview: “Our general line is to protect the institutions of the Egyptian state, to urge them to fulfill their roles, and to develop them in a way that will suit the challenges and dangers that we face. Al-Azhar has a monumental status both inside and outside Egypt, and that is why we insist that it fulfill its role, because both the region and the world need it to do so.”[5]

At a June 21, 2017 event marking Laylat Al-Qadr, the night when, according to Muslim tradition, the Quran was first revealed to Muhammad, Al-Sisi praised Al-Azhar as a source of pride and for the position it has held for over a millennium. He went on to reiterate the need for a renewal of the religious discourse, calling it “a matter of life and death for the people and the ummah.”[6]

On July 26, 2017, four months after the April 8, 2017 Palm Sunday attacks on Mar Girgis church in Tanta and St. Marks Cathedral in Alexandria, Al-Sisi confirmed his decision to establish a Supreme Council for the Fight Against Extremism and Terrorism,” to be headed by him, and whose members would include the parliamentary speaker, the prime minister, the Al-Azhar sheikh, the Coptic Patriarch, various government ministers, the head of Egypt’s general intelligence service, the head of the Administrative Supervisory Authority, and public figures such as former Egyptian mufti Ali Goma’a.[7] However, even though the Al-Azhar sheikh is on the council, Egyptian media members who are close to the regime interpreted the establishment of the council as a blow to Al-Azhar’s authority; some even called it proof of Al-Azhar’s “demise.” The establishment of this council, they said, meant that the institution of the presidency had decided that it itself would act on the matter of renewing the religious discourse, instead of waiting for the Ministry of Endowments or for Al-Azhar to do so.[8]

Another serious dispute between Al-Sisi and Sheikh Al-Tayeb erupted over the issue of talaq ­– that is, a Muslim husband’s power to divorce his wife on the spot by merely telling her three times “I divorce you.” Al-Sisi again reprimanded Al-Tayeb in public. During a January 24, 2017 speech marking Police Day, he addressed him directly, saying: “You’ve tired me out, my friend.”[9] Al-Sisi went on to call for an end to this divorce practice, which is common in Egypt, and for divorce to be documented legally in order to reduce the rate of talaq divorces in the country.[10] In response, MP ‘Amr Hamroush hastened to prepare a bill regulating divorce.[11]

This demand by President Al-Sisi, which also garnered support from the Egyptian media, was perceived by the Al-Azhar institute as an affront to Islam, an attempt to secularize Egypt, and an attempt to circumvent the authority of the institute. In an announcement, Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars clarified that “by virtue of Al-Azhar’s religious responsibility and its status in the Egyptian ummah, as determined by the constitution of Egypt,” it had in recent months convened to discuss current social issues, among them the issue of divorce in a religious context, and that it had decided that talaq is permitted. In this way, the council made it clear that Al-Azhar does indeed have decision-making authority in matters of Islamic law.[12]

Al-Azhar cleric Dr. Yahya Ismail said: “The war against Islam and its rulings is an old war. There is an ongoing, focused campaign to secularize Egypt…” He added: “This is a conspiracy against Islam and its guidelines… The rulings and conditions regarding divorce are known… The game of [legally] documenting divorce is an old one, and it is Christian clerics who were behind it [and who] tried to persuade some of [Egypt’s] presidents in this matter…” Al-Azhar lecturer Ahmed Karima also criticized Al-Sisi’s demand, saying: “Who will successfully eradicate this [talaq]? Only Allah or His Messenger… “[13]

Following the media uproar over the divorce issue, there was an attempt to calm the waters by both sides, and to show that things had returned to normal. On February 26, 2017, Al-Sisi stressed, in a meeting with Sheikh Al-Tayeb, that Al-Azhar is like a lighthouse for moderate Islamic ideology.[14] Al-Tayeb advisor Muhammad ‘Abd Al-Salam also denied that there was any disagreement between the two institutions of Al-Azhar and the presidency.[15]

Measures Against Al-Azhar: A Bill To Limit Al-Azhar Sheikh’s Authority And Establishment Of A Committee To Examine Al-Azhar Curricula

One manifestation of the anger at Al-Azhar was recent parliamentary measures against it and its sheikh aimed at limiting his authority and independence. Recently, MP Muhammad Abu Hamed, known to support Al-Sisi, proposed a change to the 1961 Al-Azhar Law regulating the authority of both the institute and its head. This bill was supported by parliamentary speaker Ali ‘Abd Al-A’al, who argued that the bill did not harm Al-Azhar.[16]

The main points of the amendment bill proposed by Abu Hamed make it clear that it is aimed at limiting the Al-Azhar sheikh’s authority and at increasing governmental control of the institute itself. For example, Section 2 of Abu Hamad’s bill states that the Al-Azhar sheikh is the Grand Imam of all Muslim clerics and that he represents the institute, but also states that his term is six years and that he can be reelected only once. The 1961 law did not mention the length of the sheikh’s term. Also according to the bill, the candidates for the position of sheikh are to be selected not just by Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars, as has been the case to date, but jointly by the council and Al-Azhar’s Academy of Islamic Research. Further, according to Section 5 of the  bill, if two-thirds of the members of Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars feel that the sheikh is not fulfilling his role appropriately, he is to be sent before an investigative committee comprising seven of this council’s leading members. This committee has the power to warn him, reprimand him, or “revoke his authority.” The original 1961 law included nothing regarding internal oversight of the Al-Azhar sheikh.[17]

Section 8 of the bill authorizes the president to appoint the imam and preacher of Al-Azhar’s mosque, from among three candidates that are to be put forward by Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars.[18] Also, Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars is to determine the content of the Friday sermons delivered at Al-Azhar mosque, and set regulations for religious, social, and cultural activities at the mosque.

It should be noted that an addition to the general definition of Al-Azhar’s role focuses on the importance of its role in developing religious discourse in a manner highlighting humane principles and unifying the Muslim ummah, and undermining the sources of the extremist discourse that crudely interprets Islam.[19]

Abu Hamed said of the bill that in today’s circumstances it is inconceivable that the Al-Azhar sheikh cannot be fired, and emphasized that three senior members of Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars are MB members.[20]

A further parliamentary step taken against the Al-Azhar institute relates to its educational curriculum. The chairman of the Religious Affairs Committee in the parliament, Osama Al-‘Abd, said that the committee has established a working group to examine the curriculum at the institute as part of a process to renew religious discourse in Egypt.[21]

Despite Abu Hamed’s bill and the examination of the curriculum, it is evident that there is much support in parliament for Sheikh Al-TayebAbu Hamed’s bill was criticized by several MPs who said that they had been unaware the law harmed the status of the Al-Azhar sheikh and asked that their signatures be removed from the bill. Further, MP Osama Sharshar wrote a memorandum to the parliamentary speaker that was signed by the majority of the 406 MPs demanding that the bill be opposed and not submitted because it was clearly aimed at harming one of the institutions of Egyptian society. Al-Azhar is a red line, he said, much like the military, and firing the Al-Azhar sheikh is practically heresy.[22]

For his part, Abu Hamed rejected the MPs’ request that their signatures be removed, and said that he would try to enlist the support of additional MPs and re-submit the bill during the next parliamentary session.[23] In this context, parliamentary sources revealed to the Egyptian daily Al-Shurouq that top-echelon officials had ordered that the bill be shelved.[24] Nevertheless, on several additional occasions Abu Hamed stressed that he intended to submit the bill, and that he had the signatures of 80 MPs who support it.[25]

On May 9, a delegation of MPs met with Sheikh Al-Tayeb, who thanked them for their opposition to those aiming to harm Al-Azhar and warned that any affront to it was a blow to Egypt’s position as defender of Islam and its moderateness.[26]

Allegations In Media That Al-Azhar Is Not Acting Against Terrorism; Calls For Sheikh Al-Tayeb To Resign

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Father Samir: Egypt’s Palm Sunday Terror Reflects a Sickness Within Islam

The Egyptian priest, who is an authority on Islam, discusses the factors driving the murderous attacks on Christians and what he hopes the Pope will say when he visits Egypt this month.

National Catholic Register, by Edward Pentin, April 13, 2017: (h/t Christopher Holton)

VATICAN CITY — Oil money, Wahhabi extremism and an Islam unwilling to reform itself are the principal reasons for the terrorist attacks on two Egyptian churches on Palm Sunday and the rise of Islamism over the past 100 years.

This is according to Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir, professor of Islamic studies at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, who says it is false when people say such attacks have nothing to do with Islam. “ISIS is not doing anything which is neither in the Quran nor in the Mohammedan tradition,” he says.

In this April 10 interview with the Register, Father Samir — who is Egyptian himself — discusses the main motivations behind Islamic violence, why it’s important to say exactly how things are within Islam and help reform it, and his hopes for Pope Francis’ April 28-29 visit to Egypt.

What are the primary causes of these attacks? What’s behind them? Is it primarily to do with Islam, politics or something else?

For a year or more, the Muslim Brotherhood were attacking regularly during the presidency of Mohamed Morsi (2012-2013); they were attacking Christians, for any reason. For instance, they alleged a Christian who was building a house for his two children was in fact not building a house, but a church, so they are trying to make problems for the Christians. This happens regularly, but it became much more intense.

Now this time, what we hear from Egypt is that ISIS is saying they are behind these attacks, but there’s also support from the Muslim Brotherhood because they were ejected from the political system. The feeling is that the attacks against Christians in Egypt are becoming more frequent and violent. This has never happened before, that they attack so many churches and precisely on such a great Christian feast. The last ones took place before Christmas, and now these two attacks during Holy Week. The intent is probably to attack the president indirectly, through the Christians, to say he’s not able to govern or control the situation. In north Sinai, they attacked Christians and so the government moved them. Now they’ve come back under the protection of the army. In the past month, we’ve had three big attacks, and four months ago we had the attack near the Coptic cathedral.

Is attacking Christians, therefore, really about attracting negative attention against the government more than it is against Christians per se?

It’s both because they attack Christians without reason, in different situations — this year, last year and so on. Christians and Jews are their enemies, but there are no more Jews in Egypt. Christians are 10% of the population, 9 million people. So this Islamic movement, for six years now, has simply wanted to create a new caliphate, by all means possible, because there’s a great crisis within the Islamic world, and the crisis is turning into violence.

What is precipitating this crisis?

In Islam they are not prepared nor able to renew themselves, as [Egypt’s] President [Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil] el-Sisi said in December 2014 when he took power. He spoke to Al-Azhar University and gave a beautiful speech, in which he said we need to make a revolution in Islam, to rethink the whole system. The scholars all applauded, said, “Yes, Yes,” but they haven’t changed anything in the teaching. Many intellectuals on Egyptian television came and developed this argument and said Al-Azhar is unable to make the reform we need. Nothing has changed.

Are you of the view that Islamism is the true Islam?

ISIS is the application of what is taught. It’s not outside Islam, or something invented. No, they are applying Islam. When we hear it has nothing to do with Islam — that it means salaam; that it means peace — this is all false. It’s not true. ISIS is not doing anything which is neither in the Quran nor in the Mohammedan tradition. Everything is taken after a decision taken by an imam. A mufti and imam will say this is or is not allowed.

This isn’t just a problem in Egypt, but Egypt represents the greatest and strongest country, and also where you have the most important school of Islamic learning — just as we have Rome for the Catholic Church, Islam has Al-Azhar University.

Given this fact, what do you think about the Pope’s visit to Cairo? Should he say this hard truth about Islam, but in a diplomatic way?

Yes. He should certainly be very diplomatic. He wants to be more than diplomatic, to foster good relations with them, this is sure. He is avoiding hard words. He never said Islam is also a religion of violence — he said the opposite. He said there’s no violence in religion and so on, because this is his aim: to help Muslims, who are the second-most important group in the world, to have a dialogue and understanding.

Is that an acceptable way of approaching the issue, in your view?

Well, it’s not my way. I think it’s important to say things with charity, with friendship, but to say things as they are: that it cannot continue like this; we have to rethink Islam. This is my vision. They cannot take the texts of the seventh century literally as they are in the Quran. He [the Pope] does not dare to say something like that because he doesn’t know the Quran well enough, and so on. So I understand his position, but it would be better to have a clearer and more frank discussion — with openness, but also with some realism.

The Pope called for the hearts of the terrorists to be converted and for the conversion of the hearts of those who traffic weapons. Is that a fair point, or is that not going to the root cause?

Certainly, in Egypt everyone says the whole structure of ISIS is something elaborated by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the Wahhabi countries, against the Shia. It’s also my opinion. What does ISIS mean? It’s “Islamic State for Iraq and Syria.” This is the name they have chosen, taken from the Arabic Daesh, which means exactly that.

Now why Iraq and Syria? Because in Iraq we have a Shia government after the death of Saddam Hussein. The U.S.A. organized the country like that; they said the Shia are a small majority so the government should be led by Shia, with Sunni. In Syria the government is Alawite, which is a branch of Shia, although they are at most 15% of the population. This has been the case for 50 years now, with the father, Hafez al-Assad, and now his son, Bashar al-Assad. So the Sunni — who are 70%-75% — organized the protest against the government because they want to take power.

The question is religious, too, and supported by the rich countries of Arabia. And the rich buy the weapons from the U.S. principally, but also England, France, Italy and Germany to a smaller degree. So there is in fact an international war going on, but it is not clear. It seems to be they’re using this revolutionary Islamic State, which was partly formed by the U.S., from Iraq, after the occupation of Iraq, after the death of Saddam Hussein, because the U.S. formed a group of well-trained military. The so-called caliph, Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi, was one of these people trained by the U.S.

So all the conditions were there, but no one was thinking it would be so savage, that it would be absolutely inhuman. They killed and tortured people; they took women and people as slaves and turned children into bombs.

This was unprecedented?

We had never seen something like that, so the reaction of official Islam is that this has nothing to do with Islam, but this is in fact a lie. It has 100% to do with Islam, with chosen texts from the Quran and sharia [Islamic law]. They’re not doing anything against Islamic law.

How much is Islamism primarily due to Islam rather than, perhaps, Arab culture? Why, for instance, does Islamism appear much less prominent in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, than in the Middle East? 

Everything comes from the Middle East in Islam, this is sure, but, unfortunately, even in Indonesia, where there are 220 million people, they are now no longer as they were 15 years ago. There was a Protestant who was elected to parliament, and they wanted to put him in prison simply because he said something against Muhammad. This was once unthinkable in Indonesia.

Then you have Pakistan and Bangladesh, which are much worse than what we see in the Arab world. The propaganda coming from the Wahhabi countries is organized to go everywhere — to Asia and Africa. You have Boko Haram [in Nigeria] and others in Sudan. This is the general movement of this Wahhabi thinking and for the imams. It’s organized by Al-Azhar, whether they want it to be or not.

Do you think Al-Azhar is also partly responsible for Islamism?

I don’t think Al-Azhar has wanted to create something like that, but the teaching they are giving, as a consequence, is a radical Islam. President el-Sisi some weeks ago proposed that, from now on, a man is not allowed to say to his wife: “You are repudiated” (I divorce you). The repudiation by words, as it is practiced today, means you just had to say three times you are repudiated in the presence of two Muslim men. He said no, from now on, all should go through a tribunal, but Al-Azhar refused with the argument that this was already in force in the time of Muhammad and we cannot touch it.

So the conflict is within Islam, and the solution is within Islam. We have to reform Islam and our understanding of Islam.

Why is it that 50-60 years ago, there wasn’t this level of violence?

Through the influence of the Wahhabi. And how did this influence come? Through oil, through money. The heart of the matter is that they buy the conscience of the people. Al-Azhar is partly financed by the Wahhabi, and all the mosques they’re building, the big mosque in Rome, is funded by the Wahhabi. They put in the imam, they pay and command what to do, and so they’re creating thousands of schools for boys and girls throughout the world, everywhere, also in China. In the Islamic part of China, the Chinese government is reacting very strongly and bringing non-Muslims to this part of the country just to change the mentality. So the question is the money.

Could it, therefore, possibly be argued that it’s more to do with the money — that it is money that is perverting Islam?

Friends from Lebanon now living in Paris said they’d had enough of this Bedouin religion — by that, they meant from Arabia. They said, “We are not Bedouins, and this is not our Islam.” That’s the point: There is a conjunction between people who are very radical because they adopted, at the end of 19th century, the most radical vision of Islam, and you cannot discuss anything.

In the Middle Ages, you had discussions: The fact that the Quran is divine — this was not the teaching of the first five centuries of Islam, but there was a discussion, with part saying it was divine and another that it was human, that it is created and uncreated. The discussion went on until the 11th and 12th century, and only then it became uncreated, divine. And being divine means that every word and comma is divine, and this is what people think today — the official Islam is saying that. That means that if I find a verse — “Kill them wherever you find them” — for instance, then you have to do it. And for Christians and Jews, it’s clear they have to pay the jizya and be humiliated, says the Quran. So they say: “They can live with us, but they first have to pay and, second, to be humiliated.” This is impossible today, so what they do is attack Christians, and nobody is protesting seriously.

How are Christians currently being discriminated against in Egypt?

There’s no jizya, but you cannot have an important post in the government, not like it was until the 1960s. We didn’t have a president, but a king, until 1954, and Christians had very important positions. Egyptian radio recently broadcast a magnificent program showing that the best schools for more than a century were the Christian schools, the ecclesiastical schools, as they say in Arabic, run by the Jesuits, the Anglicans, and so on. They formed all the best people of the state, and this is true. Until today we had in our Jesuit school in Cairo at least 40% Muslims. It was another atmosphere. Christians had a very important part to play in the 19th century, what we called our renaissance in Egypt, and it was achieved through the Christians. You cannot have that now, because they don’t give them their rightful place.

How bad is daily life now for Christians compared to 20-30 years ago, and why has it gotten worse?

Because of this Wahhabi movement, the Salafists also, and the Muslim Brotherhood. It was under control in the time of Nasser and also after that, but not in the time of [Anwar] Sadat. Now they have come back, and especially with the financing of Saudi Arabia, we had the Wahhabi tendency in universities and daily life. For instance, a few years ago, during Ramadan and other periods, they started forbidding beer. It was produced in Upper Egypt, but now it’s forbidden. So they are corrupting people with their money and ideology.

Much has to do with the oil money of the past 100 years.

Yes, and maybe change will come now, because the oil price is going down, and there is a conference now with the advent of fracking [fracking is negatively affecting the price of oil]. The question is the financing. Saudi Arabia is now using up its financial reserves, and the economy is now worsening.

Should we expect Islamism to worsen?

What we expect is that the situation will be more open-minded. This is what we want, not to be against Islam, but for it, for open-mindedness. We, as Christians, have to help Muslims and say: “Look, we’ve been through something similar in other centuries.” We have a mission to work together, to find a way to come out from this. Note that, at the moment, the government says there’s only 40% literacy, but certainly it’s higher. This is Egypt in the 21st century. The education of the 60% is also almost zero.

What are your hopes for the Pope’s visit?

The visit will certainly be positive. He is supposed to speak first with President el-Sisi, which is very important, as he’s open-minded, and he wants to build a modern state and not a religious state. Then he [the Pope] will visit Al-Azhar, which is also very important, and also the Coptic Orthodox Church, which is the great Church in Egypt, with 9 million people and with an open-minded patriarch. So this is important. The second day will be for the Catholic Church, which will also involve positive decisions and orientations.

Also see:

Middle East: A Shift from Revolution to Evolution

Gatestone Institute, by Najat AlSaied, April 8, 2017:

  • The lesson the Trump administration might learn from the disastrous mistakes of its predecessor is that the main sources of terrorism in the region are political Islam and all its related religious groups. All these radical groups, including ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Jabhat Al-Nusra and Hamas have been spawned by a political Islam driven by the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • The fight, therefore, should not be against Islam, but against political Islam. Islam needs to be practiced the way other religions are, as a private personal faith that should be kept separate from public life and politics, and whose expression should be confined to worship only.
  • Mosques, whether in the Arab and Muslim world or in the West, should be places of worship only and must not transformed to centers for polarizing society or for recruitment by political religious groups.

After each Islamist terrorist attack in the West, the public is divided into two camps: one angry and one indifferent. The problem with defeating Islamist terrorism seems to be that either it is attacked by conservatives who call Islam an evil cult or it is forgiven entirely by liberal apologists. What, then, is the answer?

One of the main failures in Western analyses of the origins of terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa is that the West attributes them to a lack of democracy and a lack of respect for human rights. This is, indeed, part of the cause, but the root of the problem is a lack of development and modernity. U.S. President Donald Trump did not exaggerate when he said that the Obama administration’s foreign policy was disastrous. It was catastrophic mainly for two reasons. One was the knee-jerk support for the “Arab Spring” and for extremist Islamic political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. The second was the alliances the Obama administration built with unreliable countries such as Qatar, which supports radical political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition, Obama made the mistake of continuing to try to appease Iran’s theocratic regime.

The Arab Spring’s uncalculated, hasty attempt to establish so-called democracy only generated more turmoil and chaos in the region. Certain radical political groups simply exploited the elections to serve their own political and sectarian agendas; that swoop for power only resulted in more authoritarian and dictatorial regimes, as have played out, for instance, in Egypt, where we have witnessed the murder of civilians and police officers by the Muslim Brotherhood. In other countries, the situation is even worse; attempts to install democracy have totally destroyed the state and facilitated the spread of terrorist militias, as in Libya.

It is ironic that Western countries and their advocates stress the need to apply democratic practices in Arab countries, but evidently do not recall that development and secularism preceded democracy in Western Europe. The United Kingdom, which has the oldest democratic system, did not become fully democratic until 1930. France became fully democratic only in 1945, 150 years after the French Revolution.

The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, at the Arab Summit in Jordan on March 28, 2017 delivered a speech in which he indicated his continuous support for the Muslim Brotherhood:

“If we are serious about focusing our efforts on armed terrorist organizations, is it fair to consider any political party we disagree with as terrorist? Is our goal to increase the number of terrorists?”

Many Arab leaders were infuriated by his speech; at the forefront was President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, who left the Arab Summit Hall during the speech to meet King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Most Arab leaders and analysts, in fact, are enraged by Qatar’s continuous support for Islamist political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, because these groups are a threat to their national security.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt speaks at the Arab Summit, on March 29. The previous day, Sisi walked out of a speech by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. Sisi was infuriated by Al-Thani’s declaration of support for the Muslim Brotherhood. (Image source: Ruptly video screenshot)

Another consequence of Obama’s foreign policy — in particular attempts to get close to Iran’s hostile regime — has been a fraying of relationships with old Arab allies of the United States. Some of Obama’s advisors thought that replacing Saudi Arabia with Iran was somehow “better” for the United States, if Iran “is beginning to evolve into a very civilized and historically important country” — an analysis that can be described as completely short-sighted.

The Saudi regime, with all its flaws, is a monarchy run by princes; the Iranian regime is a theocracy run by clerics. The Saudi regime is not a theocratic regime but a hybrid structure, which is neither wholly secular nor wholly religious. As such, the religious class functions under the authority of the ruling class. Princes are driven by self-interest; clerics are driven by ideology. In terms of extremism, the Iranian regime is pushing for hegemony, whilst Saudi Arabia has been taking only a defensive, rather than an expansionist, position.

The motivation of Saudi Arabia in exporting mosques world-wide and installing radical Saudi imams is defensive, not expansionist as in Iran. Saudi Arabia’s impetus is to confront Iran’s hegemony and the spread of its hostile ideology. It is this strategy, which Saudi Arabia has practiced since 1979 to balance Iran’s power and to combat its rebellious ideology, that must change.

That Iran’s Khomeini regime sought to embarrass Saudi Arabia — a country that is home to Islam’s two holiest mosques, in Mecca and Medina — by portraying it as not sufficiently Islamic, meant that the foundational Islamic Wahhabism of the Saudi Kingdom was aggressively reinforced. This emphasis resulted in even more constraints being put in place in Iran: especially on entertainment. Since the Khomeini revolution in 1979, all plays, fashion shows, international events, and cinemas have been banned. As for women, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has increasingly harassed them. As for minorities, especially Shia challenging the Iranian Shia regime and its support for Shia militias — particularly the dominant Revolutionary Guards — books were published attacking the Shia:

More books appeared, attacking the Shias and especially Khomeini’s views. These books – like the arguments of Khomeini’s followers – rejected modern thinking as an “intellectual invasion.” Saudi Arabia, considered the guardian of Sunni Islam, spent billions of dollars on challenging the Khomeini-backed Shiites.

This religious one-upmanship — a competition over which body can be the “most religious” — must stop. Saudi Arabia would do well to understand that in order to confront the hegemony of the Iranian theocratic regime, the answer is not to radicalize Saudi society but to return to the way it was before 1979.

The best way to defeat the rebel hostile regime in Iran might be through creating an inclusive and tolerant society in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia needs to change its approach towards Iran because the current strategy has not worked. The current strategy has done nothing except to strengthen the Iranian regime’s dominance; distort, globally, the image of Saudi Arabia and accelerate terrorism.

The lesson the Trump administration might learn from the disastrous mistakes of its predecessor is that the main source of terrorism in the region are political Islam and all its related religious groups. All these radical groups including ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Jabhat Al-Nusra and Hamas have been spawned by a political Islam driven by the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. Extremist jihadists such as Osama bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam and Ayman al-Zawahiri were all taught by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Political Islam practiced by the Iranian theocratic regime has been comfortably generating Shia radical militias, including the terrorist group, Hezbollah. The fight, therefore, should not be against Islam, but against political Islam. Islam needs to be practiced the way other religions are, as a private personal faith that should be kept separate from public life and politics, and whose expression should be confined to worship only. Mosques, whether in the Arab and Muslim world or in the West, should be places of worship only and must not transformed to centers for polarizing society or for recruitment by political religious groups. Unfortunately, Western countries have turned a blind eye to the political activities inside these mosques.

The danger of these religious political groups is that they do not believe in democracy or human rights; they just use elections to grasp power in order to impose a system of “Islamic Caliphate” as their only form of government. Most of these groups use religion as an ideology to oppose governments other than their own, and when they are criticized or attacked, they play the role of the oppressed.

The Trump administration needs to take advantage of the fact that the majority of people in the Middle East and North Africa have lost faith in religious political groups, especially since the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Tunisia.

Before the Arab Spring, support for these groups was huge; now it stands at less than 10% of the population. This study was conducted in the Arab world, not including Turkey. The Muslims who support Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are the Muslim Brotherhood.

Most recent polls indicate that the majority of people in Arab and Muslim countries prefer religion to be kept separate from politics.

The country that is working the most systematically to fight these religious political groups in the region is the United Arab Emirates (UAE). There are several institutes and think tanks researching how to combat these groups. Dr. Jamal Sanad Al-Suwaidi, Director General of the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), has given a robust analysis of these groups and how to combat them in his book, The Mirage. In it, he cites a study on public opinion on political religious groups: A survey of the UAE population, on how these groups are able to influence the public by taking advantage of certain flaws in the system: 53.9% because of corruption; 47.9% because of poverty and 29.1% because of an absence of civil society groups that confront these opportunists.

The Middle East-North Africa region will undoubtedly have to go through several stages before it can successfully establish democracy. An evolutionary developmental approach will definitely be better than the failed revolutionary democratic one pursued by the Obama administration.

Secularization is also crucial in the fight against terrorism. Trying to build a democracy before going through the stages of secularism and political reformation — which includes rectifying existing flaws, such as corruption; modernization which means the liberation of the region from extremist totalitarian religious dogma and all other forms of backwardness in order to kick-start a renaissance; and scientific development — will not only be inadequate but will actually generate more terrorism by helping radicals to keep gaining power. It would be like a farmer who wants to plant roses in arid desert soil full of thorns.

Najat AlSaied is a Saudi American academic and the author of “Screens of Influence: Arab Satellite Television & Social Development”. She is an Assistant Professor at Zayed University in the College of Communication and Media Sciences in Dubai-UAE. She can be reached at: najwasaied@hotmail.com

Sisi, Trump, and the Politics of Designating the Muslim Brotherhood

President Trump welcomes Egyptian President El-Sisi to the White House, April 3, 2017. (Reuters photo: Carlos Barria)

The group uses violent means when necessary to advance its Islamist agenda.

National Review, by Clifford Smith, April 6, 2017:

Hopes that the Trump administration will designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization have hit rough waters, with anonymous officials citing concerns about diplomatic blowback and frayed relationships with Muslims at home and abroad. The leaks come on the eve of a historic visit to Washington by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a key Arab ally and devoted Muslim who is locked in a life-or-death struggle with the Brotherhood.

The irony is hard to miss, particularly given that Egypt and several other Arab countries have already designated the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

Whatever the truth behind the leaks, they underscore that the inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom — that the Brotherhood is “moderate” and so popular that designation would be seen as “a declaration of war against . . . Islam itself” — will not die as easily as many hoped.

This thinking is rooted in a failure to understand the difference between Islamists — a sizable but distinct minority of Muslims who adhere to a totalitarian religious ideology — and the moderate majority of Muslims, who are our friends and allies. President el-Sisi, who has publicly called out extremism to clerics in Egypt, understands this. After all, Egypt is not the only state in which the Brotherhood engaged in attempts to kill its way to power. It did the same in Syria in the early 1980s.

Despite the Brotherhood’s long history of bloodshed, claims that it is “moderate,” or opposes violence, are still prominent. While above-ground Brotherhood organizations use peaceful means when effective, they are “prepared to countenance violence . . . where gradualism is ineffective,” as a 2015 report by the British government noted with significant understatement.

Claims that designation will complicate U.S. relationships with certain Arab allies are overblown. While it is true that some allies, such as Jordan, have Muslim Brotherhood–affiliated parties represented in their parliaments, this is easy enough to finesse. Members of Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, have long served in Lebanon’s parliament, but American diplomats manage to avoid contact with them and still do business with the Lebanese.

Moreover, failure to designate the Brotherhood complicates some alliances. The Egyptian public has grown deeply suspicious of the U.S. government precisely because under Obama the U.S. came to be seen as overly sympathetic to the Brotherhood. When Senator Ted Cruz introduced the Muslim Brotherhood Terror Designation Act, many Egyptians saw it as a sign the U.S. may be waking from its long slumber. A tweet introducing the bill was the subject of a segment by popular Egyptian talk-show host Amr Adib and was retweeted 17,000+ times.

Domestically, in the wake of Trump’s admittedly troubling comments suggesting a “Muslim ban” during his presidential campaign last year, some fear that designation will fuel anti-Muslim bigotry and pave the way for “a legal assault on the institutions of American Muslim life.” After all, several organizations claiming to represent U.S. Muslims, particularly the Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR), have deep Muslim Brotherhood ties.

But groups such as CAIR are hardly “institutions of American Muslim life” — they’re just pretending to be. A 2011 Gallup poll found support for CAIR among U.S. Muslims to be just under 12 percent. Britain’s inquiry into the Brotherhood found that its activists in the U.K. “appear to be unable to generate any grassroots support.”

Frankly, however, if public support for CAIR were higher, that would be all the more reason to be concerned. Notwithstanding its carefully crafted public image, CAIR was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the 2007–09 Holy Land Foundation terror-finance case, and was blacklisted by the FBI as a result. Unfortunately, the Obama administration failed to aggressively continue an FBI investigation into CAIR after it conspired to fund terrorist-designated organization Hamas, the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed, the United Arab Emirates has declared CAIR itself a terrorist organization.

Trump’s rhetorical excesses cannot be understood without recalling the Obama administration’s refusal to name the problem. Using euphemisms such as “violent extremism” and feigning puzzlement as to the motives of obvious jihadists made the administration’s rhetoric concerning terrorism a national joke. In both the U.S. and Europe, when elites insist that voters must believe them, rather than their own “lying eyes,” the voters turn sharply in the opposite direction. The cure for Trump’s rhetorical excesses is increased security, not denial.

Trump laid out a number of smart proposals on radical Islam during his campaign. His administration should now use President el-Sisi’s visit to move forward with these ideas. In particular, it should follow up designation of the Brotherhood with the formation of a congressionally authorized commission on radical Islam tasked with developing a strategy for winning the war against Islamic extremists and explaining the threat of Islamism to the American people. Both are badly needed. Wrongheaded conventional wisdom won’t keep Americans, or our Muslim allies, safe.

— Clifford Smith is the Washington project director for the Middle East Forum.

***

Farahat: U.S. Should Designate Muslim Brotherhood a Terrorist Organization; Egyptian Government ‘Not Strong Enough’ to Combat Its Ideology

KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty

Breitbart, by John Hayward, April 4, 2017:

Egyptian author and political analyst Cynthia Farahat, an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum and founder of the Liberal Egyptian party, joined SiriusXM host Raheem Kassam on Tuesday’s Breitbart News Daily to discuss Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’svisit to the White House.

“President Sisi is the most moderate Muslim leader to rule Egypt since the 1952 coup d’etat,” Farahat said. “He’s certainly very moderate. I don’t think he believes in theocratic forms of Islam. I think he has a very classic liberal-style narrative when it comes to understanding Islam itself.”

“But he’s still not strong enough to combat these ideologies within his country,” she added.

“On a positive note, the Muslim Brotherhood are extremely unpopular inside Egypt as a political group,” she reported. “I would say they’re the most hated group of individuals inside the country.”

Kassam found that an extraordinary declaration, given that the Muslim Brotherhood was voted into power and running the Egyptian government just a few years ago.

“It’s a little debated how they got in there to begin with,” Farahat replied wryly. “I have a serious problem believing that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces that was overseeing the elections and engaged in killing Christians on TV channels would uphold a free and fair election. If you don’t respect their lives, you don’t respect their votes.”

Farahat clarified that her assessment of Sisi’s weakness against Islamist forces in Egypt was really a judgment of the government’s overall weakness.

“The only power the Islamists have right now is in controlling Al-Azhar University in Cairo, which is basically the most important Islamic university,” she explained. “They’re the experts on Islamic jurisprudence in Sunni Islam around the world. That’s where the problem is. I would have liked to see President Trump asking el-Sisi to investigate Al-Azhar University.”

She quoted from an investigative report about what the university’s 300,000 students are being taught: “Any Muslim can kill an apostate and eat him, as well as kill infidel warriors. Even if they are young or female, they can also be eaten because they are not granted any protection.”

“High school students learn this!” she exclaimed. “That’s just one example. There are other examples where they say to preserve oneself from the evil of an infidel, any Muslim can gouge their eyes out or mutilate their hands and legs or even sever one arm and one leg.”

“I have a problem with these teachings,” Farahat said. “When Sisi claims that he wants to fight radical Islam, how about investigate what is happening in Al-Azhar? To be honest, he has called upon them numerous times to reform. But someone who goes as far as legitimizing cannibalism will not reform himself. These people need to be investigated for terrorism, specifically that they have a long history in it.”

She said the Muslim Brotherhood has taken “a severe knock” in Egypt since it was deposed by the Sisi government.

“By the way, the Muslim Brotherhood, they say that they were popular. They were never really popular,” she noted. “When you look at their history, they have been operating inside Egypt from the 1920s. Before the so-called Arab Spring, they didn’t even have a million members in a country of 90 million people. The estimates were from 600,000 to 800,000 members of the Brotherhood.”

“They are very unpopular right now. They are so unpopular that if you have the Muslim Brotherhood beard, which is a very short beard with a sign of prayer on the forehead, they’re not allowed to walk in certain areas inside of Egypt, in Alexandria,” she said.

“So they have taken a severe beating. They’re very unpopular. The United States has to designate them as a terrorist organization. I’m currently writing a book just on the terrorism within the Muslim Brotherhood. They were involved in establishing the vast majority of Sunni terrorist groups around the world today. From al-Qaeda to Islamic State to al-Jamaa al-Islamiya – you name it – you can trace it back to the Muslim Brotherhood,” Farahat said.

She estimated that her book on the Muslim Brotherhood should be finished in about six months.

“It will address issues that I talked about in my most recent article for Middle East Quarterly, so you’re welcome to check this out. It has a lot of the evidence of their involvement in terrorism,” Farahat said.

Breitbart News Daily airs on SiriusXM Patriot 125 weekdays from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

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Egypt’s Christians in the Shadow of the Muslim Brotherhood

Christian Coptic Priest Father Samuel reacts as he stands  inside the burned and heavily damaged St. Mousa church in Minya, Egypt . Dozens of churches were burned as well as businesses and homes during a surge of violence against Egypt's Christian minority after security forces raided two Islamist protest sit in camps on August 14.(Photo by Heidi Levine/Sipa Press)./LEVINE_1327.21/Credit:LEVINE/SIPA/1308301358

Christian Coptic Priest Father Samuel reacts as he stands inside the burned and heavily damaged St. Mousa church in Minya, Egypt . Dozens of churches were burned as well as businesses and homes during a surge of violence against Egypt’s Christian minority after security forces raided two Islamist protest sit in camps on August 14.(Photo by Heidi Levine/Sipa Press)./LEVINE_1327.21/Credit:LEVINE/SIPA/1308301358

Washington Free Beacon, by Daniel Bassali, Aug. 11, 2015:

In the nearly five years of turmoil that have followed the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, no group in Egypt has suffered more than the 15 million Coptic Christians. Both a religious and ethnic minority, the Copts are descended from the native population of Egypt who lived and ruled there from the time of the pharaohs until the Roman conquest in 31 B.C. They are the largest Christian community in the Middle East today.

Copts have long been the target of discrimination and persecution in the majority-Arab nation. But this ancient people faced a terrifying new prospect in 2012: Muslim Brotherhood rule.

After Mubarak was ousted, the violence began almost immediately. Churches and schools were burned; peaceful protestors were massacred. When parliamentary elections were held nine months later, they were swept by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties. When Mohamed Morsi won the presidential election in May 2012, the party’s victory looked complete. The same year, Morsi gave himself unlimited powers and the party drafted a new constitution inspired by Sharia law.

Morsi benefitted from the organizational advantage of the Muslim Brotherhood. Backed by imams preaching the benefits of religious rule, the previously banned political party was able to defeat the fractured coalitions of the pro-West, liberal, and secular candidates.

“They used thugs to carry out political intimidation against Christians,” a former member of Egyptian Parliament told the Washington Free Beacon. Chants celebrating the Brotherhood victory echoed through the streets of Cairo. “Morsi won! Copts out!”

FILE - In this May 8, 2014 file photo, Egypt's ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi sits in a defendant cage in the Police Academy courthouse in Cairo, Egypt. An Egyptian court sentenced ousted President Mohammed Morsi to death, Saturday, May 16, 2015,  over  a 2011 mass prison break.. (AP Photo/Tarek el-Gabbas, File)

FILE – In this May 8, 2014 file photo, Egypt’s ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi sits in a defendant cage in the Police Academy courthouse in Cairo, Egypt. An Egyptian court sentenced ousted President Mohammed Morsi to death, Saturday, May 16, 2015, over a 2011 mass prison break.. (AP Photo/Tarek el-Gabbas, File)

During Morsi’s rule, Christians were murdered and tortured by the hundreds. Attacks and abductions of Christian children spiked significantly. “Most Americans do not know how vicious and bloody the Muslim Brotherhood is,” Ahmed, a 24-year old secular Muslim, said. “They really can’t understand.”

Pope Tawadros II, Egypt’s Coptic Christian leader, criticized Morsi for negligence after six Christians were killed when police and armed civilians besieged Egypt’s largest cathedral. “We want actions, not words,” the Pope said.

Public accusations of blasphemy also became ubiquitous. A Facebook post interpreted as undermining Islam could bring a mob of fundamentalists with rocks and Molotov cocktails to the homes of Christians, surrounding them with families trapped inside. Sham trials with no legal representation would follow. Anti-Christian terrorism was not punished, but the wrong words often landed Copts in prison, forcing the church to make public apologies and families to leave their towns and villages.

Lydia, an activist who provides relief supplies to torn Christian communities in Upper Egypt, and who requested that only her first name be used to preserve her safety and that of her colleagues, witnessed the Muslim Brotherhood offer the very poorest Egyptians social services that bought their allegiance. “When you have no food or money, you will listen to anyone who gives you the resources your family desperately needs,” Lydia said. “They brainwash the illiterate with extremism so they hurt Christians.”

Still, Morsi’s authoritarian rule—rewriting the constitution, disbanding the Egyptian parliament, tossing potentially obstructive judges into jail—was not long lived. Barely a year after he assumed office, a reported 35 million citizens took to the streets to protest his rule, leading the Egyptian military, under Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, to remove him from power in July 2013.

Egypt’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi protest at the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, July 26, 2013 / AP

Egypt’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi protest at the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, July 26, 2013 / AP

Sen. James Lankford (R., Okla.) told the Free Beacon that had al-Sisi not responded, the promise of Egyptian Democracy would have died. “What it seemed the Egyptian people wanted was more opportunity to be able have some sort of functioning democracy, elections, input into their own government,” Lankford said. “It was the immediate understanding as soon as the Muslim Brotherhood was elected, that was the last election Egypt would have.”

In 2014, al-Sisi was elected Egypt’s new president. He won a solid electoral victory, giving him control of the Egyptian government with the responsibilities of forming a new constitution, a new parliament, and a new judicial system. The Coptic Church fervently supported al-Sisi’s candidacy because the new president promised Copts equality in citizenship, security in their communities, and the ability to build places of worship.

The new Egyptian president challenged the leaders of the Islamic world to push a more moderate message. In December 2014, hundreds of Christian and Muslim theologians gathered at al-Azhar, Egypt’s leading mosque and religious university, participated in a conference to fight “jihad” and promote inclusion. Al-Sisi ambitiously called for a “religious revolution” in January 2015, saying that clerics bear responsibility for the growing extremism in the Middle East.

As president, al-Sisi took many symbolic steps to integrate the Coptic community with the majority Sunni population. In a surprise to most Egyptians, al-Sisi attended a mass at Saint Mark Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo on Christmas Eve, a first for any Egyptian president. Al-Sisi regularly invites Pope Tawadros II to appear beside him when he announces major policy rollouts or requests public dialogue from senior advisers.

Al-Sisi also appointed two Copts as members of his cabinet. Under the constitution, the president of Egypt has the power to select 10 members of parliament. Political observers believe he will select Copts to fill a majority of those appointed seats to offer a more representative parliament.

“Our lives haven’t changed much but one positive result of the revolution is the Egyptian people have politically woken up,” said Hala, a Mubarak-era government official who also wished to be identified by her first name only because she fears political retribution. “We no longer accept what we are told. Egyptians are at least aware of the government’s actions and they are more aware of the troubles Copts face.”

But while al-Sisi’s administration provides a welcome change of tone toward the Coptic community, the day-to-day lives of Copts remain little changed from the Mubarak days.

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