Coptic activists released a statement on Monday criticizing the Coptic Orthodox Church’s widespread support of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s visit to New York for the 71st meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.
The Egyptian president is set to meet with US presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on the sidelines of the assembly. His visit was praised by leaders from the Coptic Church, who called on Coptic communities in the US to come out in a show of support for the president.
Sisi’s New York visit was hailed by Pope Tawadros II in an interview with the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm on Saturday, in which Tawadros stated that media outlets were publishing false news about relations between Copts and Muslims.
“Egypt is not the best society in the world, but both its people and its leadership are trying to become the best society,” the pope explained.
The Coptic Church also sent senior clerics, including Bishop Biemen — a close aide to Pope Tawadros II — to New York to rally support for the president. Coptic community leaders in the US have been distributing leaflets calling for marches in support of Sisi and organizing buses to transport Copts from New Jersey to New York City to support the president, ABC news reported.
Monday’s statement, signed by 82 people from the Coptic community, says that the church’s support of the Egyptian state could harm Coptic communities in Upper Egypt who suffer from discriminatory practices and violence.
“Despite the warm relationship between the current regime and Egyptian churches, ordinary Christian citizens, especially in villages and hamlets and the provinces in the south, suffer from discrimination and sectarian violence,” the statement asserted.
“The Coptic Church’s support of Sisi will result in negative outcomes for Copts,” Ishaq Ibrahim, one of the signatories of the statement and a researcher on Coptic affairs, explained to Mada Masr. “It indicates Coptic approval of the regime and will cause Copts problems in the future. Islamists will have the chance to target Copts and say that they support the regime.”
There have been a number of incidents of sectarian violence in this year, particularly in Upper Egypt, where clashes between Muslims and Copts broke out in several villages, only to be resolved through traditional reconciliation hearings in lieu of judicial investigations.
The statement also alleged that the Coptic Church’s political alliance with Sisi since the July 3 2013 ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi has not significantly changed state practices toward Coptic communities.
The statement also slammed Egypt’s government for a new controversial law governing church-building, which was approved by the Cabinet in late August. The new law has been criticized for being vaguely worded and making it difficult for Coptic communities to construct new churches in the future.
Ibrahim added that the Coptic Church’s increasingly direct involvement with politics was a cause for concern.
“We ask the church to avoid any political role,” he explained. “We want to show that not all Copts support the state.”