Egyptian president commends interreligious ties

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi speaks near Tawadros II during a Christmas Eve mass at Nativity of Christ Cathedral in Egypts admin capital Jan 6 2020 Credit STR AFP via Getty Imag Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaks near Tawadros II during a Liturgy at Nativity of Christ Cathedral in Egypt's administrative capital, Jan. 2, 2020. | STR/AFP via Getty Images.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt attended a Coptic Orthodox Liturgy Monday, praising cooperation between the Christians and Muslims of the country.

"God saw fit for us to live in difficult circumstances.... But as long as we're together ... no one can do anything to us," the AP reported him saying Jan. 6 at a Liturgy celebrated by Tawadros II, Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, at the Cathedral of the Nativity in Egypt's new administrative capital, about 40 miles east of Cairo.

The liturgy celebrated Christmas Eve, as Christmas in the Coptic calendar falls Jan. 7 in the Gregorian calendar. Sisi has made a tradition in recent years of attending Liturgy for Christmas Eve among the Copts.

According to the US Commission for International Religious Freedom, Egypt's religious freedom conditions "generally trended in a more positive direction related to high-level official discourse and actions" in 2018, while "persistent challenges at the community level and a poor, broader human rights situation remained consistent with recent years."

In the past year, Sisi's government has seen both a Coptic activist arrested on terrorism-related charges, and the sentencing of 30 men for planning to bomb a church in Alexandria.

USCIRF said in its 2019 report that Sisi has "heightened the inclusion of religious tolerance in public discourse" and has encouraged "the inclusion of churches in plans for new urban developments and calling for wider freedom of belief and worship."

The commission also said that "the government's initial effort to combat Islamist violence and ideology has evolved into a more general and severe crackdown on all perceived dissent or criticism toward the country's leadership."

Human rights activists in recent years have warned repeatedly that Christians in Egypt are enduring persecution and violence from Muslim groups, and the government has neglected to act.

The country has seen a number of attacks on churches in recent years, motivated in part by a call from the Islamic State.

Sisi has in the past deployed armed forces to help guard important installations and churches across Egypt.

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