by Mahmoud Fouly
|Supporters of presidential candidate Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi participate a rally in Cairo, Egypt, May 23, 2014. Hundreds of Sissi's supporters gathered here on Friday to join his last rally backing his running for president over the upcoming presidential election on May 26th and 27th.
CAIRO, May 24 (Xinhua) -- The vast majority of Egyptian Coptic minority are expected to vote for ex-military chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi in the presidential elections slated for Monday and Tuesday, despite the neutral position announced by the country's church.
Egypt's Copts constitute about 10 percent of the country's 94 million population. They consider Sisi "a savior" who rescued the country from the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood group, a threat they see to their rights of citizenship.
Months before taking off his military uniform to run for president, Sisi, then the defense minister, led the ouster of former Brotherhood-oriented President Mohamed Morsi last July following mass protests against his one-year rule.
"Copts see Sisi as savior and have been impressed to see the head of Coptic Church and the head of Al-Azhar Islamic institution around him while announcing the post-Morsi future roadmap," said Naguib Gobrial, a Coptic thinker and head of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights.
Egypt's Christians believe Islamists in general, the Brotherhood in particular, consider them as "second-class citizens, " and that's why they support Sisi who promised "there will be nothing called the Muslim Brotherhood during my presidential term. "
"For Copts, Sisi enjoys so much transparency and credibility that he may grant them rights they have been deprived of over the past 40 years," Gobrial told Xinhua, referring to the rights to, for example, build churches and hold top official posts.
In reaction to Morsi's removal last July, his furious supporters stormed tens of churches across the country. Sisi said in a recent interview that the military institution had repaired ten and is working on other 27 damaged churches.
Sisi's sole rival in the polls, leftist leader Hamdeen Sabahy, has been defending the rights of Copts throughout his long political career. He has promised there would be no presence for the Brotherhood as a political party or as an organization under his leadership.
However, Sabahy's alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood in the 2012 parliamentary elections dissuaded a lot of Copts to vote for him.
"Sabahy is a respectful politician who defended social justice and Copts' rights for 40 years," said Coptic author Rami Atta, " but his past alliance with the Brotherhood raises concerns about their possible return to the political life if he is elected president."
In mid-April, when Pope Tawadros II, head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, announced to the Easter celebrating masses the names of Sisi and Sabahy among the well-wishers, the attendees received Sisi's name with overwhelming cheers and applauses compared that to his leftist opponent.
Although the church repeatedly announced neutrality towards both presidential contesters, many popes across the country described Sisi as "a savior," "a knight," or "the Sphinx." Bishop Mina Girgis in Upper Egypt's Luxor province said "I did not feel my value as a Copt except at the time of Sisi."
"The church does not have a political project and it is natural for it to be committed to neutrality," Atta told Xinhua, reaffirming that the church represents Copts religiously and spiritually but not politically.
The Coptic writer, who is also a researcher at Shorouk Academy' s journalism school, said that Copts are only Egyptians with a variety of political affiliations and preferences, and their votes in the presidential elections will not be directed by the church.
"Copts are not a political group. We have for example a group referring to themselves as 'anti-coup Copts' who reject Morsi's removal by Sisi," Atta illustrated.
In October 2011, eight months after protests toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak and the military council temporarily took charge, clashes erupted outside the state TV building between Copt protesters who were against the pulling down of a church and security forces that killed about 30 of them.
Despite the fact that Sisi was a member of the ruling military council then, Copts are willing to vote for him because the man was not directly involved in the issue and was not the decision maker. They blamed ex-Defense Minister and former military council chief Hussein Tantawi for the tragedy.
"Copts are aware that the bloody accident outside the TV building is currently used by Sisi's opponents to discourage his Coptic supporters," Atta told Xinhua.
The strong belief that Sisi will not allow future presence of the Muslim Brotherhood is an enough reason for most Copts to vote for the strongman.
"We will vote for Sisi because he rid us of the Brotherhood. Egypt cannot be run except by a military ruler," Girgis Armanius, a 50-year-old average Christian, told Xinhua outside a church in Giza.