Catholic leader says government needs to fight fundamentalism
Egypt is struggling to cope with increasing violence and fundamentalism, but the government is taking steps to change the culture, according to Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, the head of the Coptic Catholic Church.
The Patriarch said that following Islamic extremist attacks on Christian churches, the Egyptian government stepped up security efforts to protect the minority population. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi last week ordered his military command to use all force necessary to secure the Sinai peninsula within the next three months following a recent militant attack on a mosque that killed more than 300 people.
The top Catholic cleric in the country said that even after several attacks in the last 12 months by Islamic militants, Christians in Egypt have shown “unshakable faith, even if it has caused fear and a sense of insecurity.”
Sidrak commented that the strength and perseverance of the Christian community have been noticed by their fellow citizens: “The attacks on Tanta, Alexandria and Minya, as well as the killing of the 21 Copts in Libya, have led many to convert to the idea of Christianity…This shows that in Egypt Coptic Christians are not only victims of violence, but also instruments of the Christian mission.”
Only about 10 percent of Egypt’s 90 million people are Christians and most of them belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church. The Coptic Catholic Church is much smaller, with just under 200,000 members. These figures are just estimates since there are no official statistics on the number of Christians “to avoid problems with fundamentalists.”
Although Christians face discrimination in the Muslim-majority country, the Church is active in social services and education. “We run schools, hospitals and programs to promote the dignity of women. Unfortunately, in recent years, only six of our schools have been opened,” Sidrak said.
Catholic schools are especially needed now as Egypt’s educational system has been influenced by fundamentalism and a “profound change” is required. This also applies to the University of al-Azhar, the most respected institution of learning in Sunni Islam, which the Patriarch feels needs to change its religious outlook:
“There were once several free thinkers, free to think and criticize the same religious institution as well, but today there are elements of extremism inside it. Al Azhar is an undergraduate institution with students coming from around the world, and it should open itself up to other faiths.”
Sidrak also appealed to other Christians around the world to help Egyptian Christians remain in their country.