Tawadros and Sisi
On Christmas Eve Mass on January 6, 2015—when President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi became the first Egyptian president to attend a church on the Coptic holy day—the congregation erupted in applause. The Egyptian Pope Tawadros II, who took office in November 2012, expressed his steadfast support for Sisi and called on his adherents to back the regime. Other prominent clerics, such as Father Makary Younan, even claimed Sisi had been “sent from heaven.” But despite the church leadership’s conservative leanings, not all Copts support the Pope’s partisan leanings. The Pope’s lack of neutrality and support for the regime may even be limiting the church’s ability to protect the rights of the Coptic community.
The Coptic papacy has dominated the community’s political activism since the 1950s—after Nasser’s de facto dissolution of the al-Maglis al-Milli, a powerful council of Coptic laymen—but papal hegemony has not bettered the community’s lot. Discrimination against Copts is deeply embedded in Egyptian society, not only among radical Islamists (as state media frequently mentions), but among governmental and military ranks as well. Successive governments have maintained, for instance, strict policies on the construction of new churches or maintenance of existing ones. Among other things, the president’s authorization is required in order to repair basic items such as a church’s toilet. Christians were promised after Morsi’s ouster in July 2013 that the government would remove “all barriers to building churches,” signaling a long-awaited breakthrough, but the issue remains unresolved.Tawadros supported Sisi's coup against the Muslim Brotherhood, and there was definitely a cost to the Coptic community in the wave of anti-Christian Islamist violence which followed. At the level of policy towards Christians, there is actually very little to differentiate Mubarak and Sisi from Morsi's government. While there are Copts who oppose the pope's stance, however:
Many Christians back the Pope out of suspicion of secular institutions such as al-Maglis al-Milli and their fear that opposition would further marginalize the community, which is already heavily underrepresented in the national decision-making process. But if persistent discrimination against Copts is to be addressed, the papacy will sooner or later have to embrace an active Coptic civil society and their demands for reform. In such a scenario, the Pope would step back from his worldly powers and grant Copts an active and critical political role by encouraging Egyptian youth to vigorously participate in society and claim equal citizenship. Otherwise Copts as a whole risk being viewed as steadfast supporters of the Sisi government.