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Egypt is emerging from 16 years of oppression says bishop

19 June 2015


Defiant: members of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood gesture behind bars after the verdict at a court in Cairo on Tuesday. The deposed President Morsi, and the party's spiritual guide Mohammad Badie, were among more than 80 of the movement's members who were sentenced to death, many of them in absentia

Defiant: members of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood gesture behind bars after the verdict at a court in Cairo on Tuesday. The deposed President Morsi, an...

EGYPTIANS have regained their freedom since the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood and victory of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Presiding Bishop in Jerusalem and the Middle East, Dr Mouneer Anis, said last week.

Dr Anis is the Bishop in Egypt, North Africa and the Horn of Africa. He was at Lambeth Palace on Friday to mark the 60th anniversary of the Egypt Diocesan Association (EDA). Speaking on Wednesday, he celebrated the growth of the Church, and defended President al-Sisi's crackdown on those accused of terrorism.

"I think we are coming out of 16 years of a sort of oppression," he said. "There was hardship facing the Christians. The new President has made it very clear that he wants to affirm the right of citizenship. He is the first president to go into church during mass. This never happened in history."

He cited, too, the President's response to the murder of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya this year, and his commitment to rebuilding the churches destroyed in sectarian attacks in August 2013.

"Now we are starting to rebuild Eygpt, and it's very important that the Church builds bridges," he said. He spoke of its commitment to providing healthcare and education.

The latest report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom records a decrease in the number of "targeted, sectarian attacks" in Egypt, compared with 2013. It, too, notes that President al-Sisi has made "several important public statements and gestures encouraging religious tolerance".

But it recommends that Egypt be designated a Country of Particular Concern, and says that the government's efforts to combat extremism and terrorism have had a "chilling impact on civil-society activities".

On Tuesday, statements from the UN and US condemned the decision by an Egyptian court to uphold the death sentence handed down to the deposed President, Mohammed Morsi.

Dr Anis argued that each case brought to the courts since 2013 had been studied "very meticulously and thoroughly". He pointed out that more than 1500 members of the police and army had been killed in clashes with Islamists, and that the courts were simply applying Egyptian law, which, as many US states do, permits the death penalty. Many of those sentenced were outside the country, he said.

The violence had not only led to civilian deaths, he said, but hurt the country through a loss in tourism and employment.

The Church had a special part to play, he said, in promoting friendship and unity with other faith bodies, Dr Anis said. At the meeting between Archbishop Welby and the Grand Imam of Al Alzhar last week (News, 12 June), he affirmed the work of the university in confronting extremism.

The EDA was founded in 1955 as the Egypt and Sudan Churches Association. In a press release issued by the organisation before the celebration, its chairman, Canon Huw Thomas, said that the diocese was "no longer so much the 'Church of England in Egypt' as an indigenous Church", growing numerically and offering hospitality, aid, and fellowship to thousands of Christians from elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East.

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