Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has been confirmed as President of Egypt after a low-turnout election for which there was no effective opposition. Most of Mr al-Sisi’s opponents declined to stand in the elections, citing intimidation. A former army chief was arrested after declaring his candidacy.
Release International is urging the country’s re-elected president to begin his second term in office by demonstrating a clear commitment to protect Egypt’s persecuted Christian minority and safeguarding freedom of religion in the country.
Egypt has the largest remaining Christian community in the Middle East, despite continuing persecution, which Christians often call ‘the pressure’. That pressure stems from long-term cultural discrimination, affecting the job prospects of Christians, their access to public life and their ability to build and even repair their churches.
The harshest persecution has come at the hands of Islamists, who have launched terror attacks on churches, burnt down Christian places of worship, businesses and homes and driven Christians out of Upper Egypt and Sinai.
Extremist persecution reached its peak under the Muslim Brotherhood, and has been contained to a degree under the authoritarian leadership of President al-Sisi, who has detained thousands of potential dissidents. Security for Christians remains precarious in regions beyond Cairo, especially the villages of Upper Egypt, and increasingly Sinai, where Islamic State has a foothold.
In recent years, Upper Egypt has seen an explosion in kidnapping of Christian children for ransom and as a tool of religious cleansing. And religious extremists are targeting Christian girls for kidnapping, forced marriage and conversion.
UK-based Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world, has reported an epidemic of grooming and forced conversion in Egypt, believed to be funded by religious leaders with cash from Saudi Arabia.
‘This is a deliberate strategy of persecution,’ says Release Chief Executive Paul Robinson. ‘All too often the police turn a blind eye to kidnap attacks on Egypt’s Christian minority. Release urges President Al-Sisi to address the discrimination and persecution of its vulnerable Christians.
‘While thousands of Christians have been driven out of countries such as Iraq and Syria, Egypt remains a bastion of the Christian faith in the Middle East, but that enclave is under pressure. Release International is urging President al-Sisi to protect Egypt’s Christians, treat them as equal citizens and grant them full religious freedom.
‘Mr President, Christians should no longer be driven from their homes, their churches must no longer be targeted for shootings, bombings and arson, and their families must be afforded the protection of the state. Please intervene to prevent this epidemic of kidnapping,’ says Paul Robinson.
Release International is working with partners in Egypt to help Christian communities reduce the risk of grooming and kidnapping, and to support victims. Release is helping develop spiritual resilience, tackle the lack of education and respond to the oppression and poverty that lie at the root of the problem in Egypt.
Through its international network of missions UK-based Release International serves persecuted Christians by supporting pastors and Christian prisoners and their families, supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice.
NOTES TO EDITOR: For further information, please contact Andrew Boyd on 07919 311993 or 01903 744993