President of Egypt, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, made a landmark apology to the country’s Christian community for delays in restoring churches that have been torched. He promised to repair each one and wished Christians in Egypt a “Merry Christmas”.
“We have taken too long to fix and renovate churches that were burned,” said President al-Sisi at a special service on 6 January at St. Mark’s Cathedral in capital city Cairo. “This year everything will be fixed. Please accept our apologies for what happened. God willing, by next year there won’t be a single church or house that is not restored … Merry Christmas.”
This is President al-Sisi’s second time to visit a church at Christmas and he is the first Egyptian present ever to make such a visit.
Security was high for Christmas services across the country. The police Major General Gamal Halawa said that roadblocks were set up around churches, preventing cars and motorcycles from stopping in front of them. The authorities also searched over 300 churches in Cairo alone for explosive devices, he said.
In what was described as the worst single day of violence against the Egyptian church since the 14th century, scores of churches, Christian institutions, homes and businesses were torched on 14 August 2013, just over a month after former President Mohammed Morsi was ousted from his position, when protests by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters were broken up.
It was President al-Sisi who deposed Morsi from his presidential office on 3 July 2013, but the Muslim Brotherhood urged its followers to believe that the leader of the Coptic Church participated in Morsi’s overthrow.
Christians continue to suffer at the hands of Islamists across the country and churches are targeted, often violently. Last November, three gunmen opened fire on a church near the Giza pyramids, near Cairo.
President al-Sisi has launched a heavy crackdown on Islamist militants, sentencing hundreds to death, including former President Morsi. Last year, he called for a reform of Islamic discourse that could incite violence and in February 2015 he signed counter-terrorism laws that would grant authorities power to ban groups that could incite civil unrest.