Abdel Fattah el Sisi 241x300 A Simple, But Important, Recent Cairo Speech

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, current President of Egypt

On June 4, 2009, Barack Obama delivered his famous “A New Beginning” speech at Cairo University. During the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Obama had promised that he would give a major address to Moslems from a Moslem capital during his first months as president. In his widely-anticipated speech, he opened by seeking a common ground between Moslems and the United States, and described Moslem contributions to Western civilization. (Can you name a Moslem contribution to Western civilization from the past 1,000 years?) He further described his own personal experiences with Islam, and in his remarks, apologized for United States foreign policy toward Islamic states. The widely-anticipated speech was deemed by the American media as a watershed in American foreign policy that magnified Mr. Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize. However, the promise of that speech was greatly diminished because of Obama’s perceived hypocrisy in praising human rights immediately after meeting with Egyptian and Saudi leaders who suppressed those same fundamental human rights.

However, a short, simple, and mostly unreported, speech was given last week in Cairo. On January 6, 2014, the date which hundreds of millions of Christians around the world celebrate Christmas Eve, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi made a surprise visit to Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo. This was the first time that an Egyptian president came to honor a Coptic Christmas Eve Holy Liturgy. Also present was the Egyptian Coptic Pope Tawandros II. President el-Sisi arrived as the Liturgy had begun, and apologized for arriving late. The Holy Liturgy was shown live on Egyptian television, and President el-Sisi was greeted warmly by the congregation.

On these pages, I have written often about the persecution of Egyptian Christians at the hands of radical Islamic militants. During the so-called “Arab Spring,” many Christian churches and holy sites in Egypt were attacked following the revolution that ousted President Mubarak in 2011. The Moslem Brotherhood puppet, Mohamed Morsi, propped up in power by billions of dollars from the Obama administration, was deposed in July 2013 by a revolution supported by tens of millions of Egyptians. Following Morsi’s removal from office, pro-Morsi protestors burned many Christian churches. General el-Sisi, who served as Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, was overwhelmingly elected president of Egypt in May 2014 with 22 million votes out of nearly 23 million counted. During his presidential campaign, General el-Sisi positioned himself as a uniter of all Egyptians.

Although not widely reported in the United States or in Europe, at the Coptic Cathedral on Christmas Eve, President el-Sisi said the following:

I would like to say a few brief words. Please, allow me. It was necessary for me to come and present my wishes to you. I hope that I am not interrupting your prayers. I wanted to tell you something… Throughout millennia, Egypt brought humanism and civilization to the whole world….  And I’d like to tell you that the world is looking to Egypt even now, in this day and age and in the present circumstances. I thank you very, very much, but honestly, I don’t want His Holiness the Pope to be upset with me. Listen, it is very important that the world should see us… that the world should see us, Egyptians… and you will note that I never use a word other than “Egyptians.” It’s not right to call each other by any other name. We are Egyptians. Let no one ask, ”What kind of Egyptian are you?” or “From what religious denomination?” Please, please, listen to me. With these words, we are showing the world the meaning of …we are opening a space for genuine hope and light. As I said, Egypt has brought a humanistic and civilizing message to the world for millennia, and we are here today to confirm that we are capable of doing so again. Yes, a humanistic and civilizing message should once more emanate from Egypt. This is why we must not call ourselves anything other than “Egyptians.” This is what we must be — Egyptians, just Egyptians. Egyptians indeed!

And with loud cheers from the congregation, President el-Sisi concluded as follows:

That’s right, hand in hand! I just want to tell you that Allah willing, Allah willing, we shall build our nation together, accommodate each other, make room for each other, and we shall like each other, love each other, love each other in earnest, so that people may see. So let me tell you once again Happy New Year, Happy New Year to you all. Happy New Year to all Egyptians, Happy New Year to His Holiness the Pope. Thank you but please… I won’t take more of your time… Happy New Year!”

Christians Copts are said to represent 10% of Egypt’s population, but more recent estimates have placed the number of Coptic Christians in Egypt at 16 million persons, or 20% of the total population. This is a truly momentous step for all of the people of Egypt, Christian and non-Christian, for which Christians outside of Egypt should rejoice greatly. But I fear that President el-Sisi’s simple remarks have made him a prime target of Islamist fanatics, just as President Sadat became a target for assassination by radical Islamists for making peace with Israel. Please continue to pray for President el-Sisi, and for our long-suffering Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt.