Egyptian President praises Christians for 'wisdom and patriotism'

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo.Reuters

The President of Egypt has praised Christians in that country for demonstrating "wisdom and a spirit of patriotism" in response to the sufferings and provocation inflicted on them in recent years.

President Abdel Fattah al Sisi paid tribute to Christians in Egypt for remaining united in the face of those who "try to exploit religion as a means of fomenting division and spreading extremist ideas".

The President was speaking as he received the visit of Copt Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II at the presidential palace with a delegation including several Bishops of the Copt Orthodox Synod of Bishops.

Sisi emphasised the value of links between Christians and Muslims in Egypt, and expressed appreciation for initiatives undertaken by the Egyptian Family House, a body for inter-religious cooperation formed to prevent and mitigate sectarian clashes.

The comments come after a string of attacks against Christians, especially in the Minya region, home to a relatively high proportion of Coptic Christians.

Earlier this month, police arrested 15 people after an arson attack on homes belonging to Coptic Christians in an Upper Egyptian village.

Days before that, the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of Minya, Anba Makarios called on police to enforce the law protecting citizens from sectarian violence, saying that attacks are taking place at an average of one every 10 days.

On July 5, an Orthodox Christian nun from Mar Girgis Monastery in Old Cairo was killed after reportedly being hit by a stray bullet on the Cairo-Alexandria Highway.

June saw the assault on homes of Christian families in the village of Karm el Loofy, the burning of a kindergarten run by Christians in Minya, and the murder on June 30 of Rafael Moussa, a Coptic Orthodox priest of the church of St George.

In May, also in Minya, a 70-year-old Christian woman – said to be the mother of a man who was allegedly romantically involved with a Muslim woman – was stripped naked by a mob of 300 Muslims and paraded through the streets of her village.

Tensions between Christians and Muslims have intensified in the country since the Arab Spring of 2011.

The worst single incident came in February 2015, with the beheadings by Islamic State of 21 Egyptian Christian migrant workers.

Egypt has an estimated population of 9 million Christians. Mostly Orthodox Copts, they account for about 10 per cent of Egypt's population, which is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim.