After Islamist rule, Coptic Christians view Sisi as bulwark

After Islamist rule, Coptic Christians view Sisi as bulwark
Coptic Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, shakes hands with former army-chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi upon Sisi's arrival for a visit the night before Easter, in Cairo, April 19, 2014.

CAIRO - Hailed as a saviour for overthrowing an Islamist president, former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi can count on the vote of Egypt's Coptic Christians who view him as a bulwark against fundamentalists.

The Copts are the Middle East's largest religious minority, and have long suffered sectarian violence that culminated in attacks on churches by supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last year.

The Islamists have been crushed following Morsi's overthrow by the army in July. Many of the Christians hope Sisi, the leading candidate in the May 26-27 election, will keep it that way.

"He is the country's saviour. During the (Muslim) Brotherhood's rule, Christians were persecuted," said Maged Sabri, as he attends a mass at a church in the working class neighbourhood of Shubra.

For decades, Egypt was ruled by strongmen from the military who often rounded up members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.

Copts "are hoping that with Sisi they will see a reinstatement of a security system that ensures they become less vulnerable to assault," said Mariz Tadros, a fellow at the University of Sussex's Institute of Development Studies.

The Copts have complained of discrimination by the government and sectarian violence, but Morsi's Islamist rhetoric and his supporters' incitement during his year in power sent a chill through the minority.

"Without (Sisi) the Brotherhood would have taken control of the state," said Amir Bessaly, another worshipper at Cairo's Virgin Mary church.

The Coptic Pope Tawadros II has hailed Sisi for "saving" the country from Morsi, but has stopped short of explicitly backing his candidacy.

When Sisi announced in a televised address Morsi's overthrow on July 3, he was flanked by Tawadros II along with Muslim religious leaders and opposition figures.

The pope's appearance fuelled Islamist allegations that the Copts played a central role in ending Morsi's elected government, although millions of mostly Muslim Egyptians had taken to the streets demanding his resignation.

On August 14, when police killed hundreds of pro-Morsi protesters in Cairo, the Islamist's backers attacked churches across the country.

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