Pope Francis’ visit to Egypt was reportedly described by many media outlets as a “risky trip” or the most dangerous trip Pope Francis has ever made as he decided to go into the very heart of the capital of the largest Arab nation whose ISIS militants said that Christians would be their “prey”.
After the deadly attacks that targeted 2 Coptic churches during Palm Sunday in Cairo leaving 44 dead and more than 100 injured, most Egyptians thought the visit of Pope Francis to Egypt would be cancelled, but he declared that the attacks will not make him cancel the visit.
The Pope’s Visit turned into a Symbolic Demonstration of Al-Sisi Army’s Power:
Although the Pope visit to Egypt was viewed as risk at that time, however, it was a challenge to Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who used to be an army general, as it seemed that he turned it into a symbolic demonstration of his army’s power.
Egypt’s streets were filled with the Egyptian army vehicles and security forces to secure the Pope’s visit.
Security forces have intensified their presence, with a reported 30,000 security personnel during Pope Francis’ visit to Cairo on Friday and Saturday, in areas where the Pope was destined to visit, as well as other lively neighborhoods around Cairo and Giza.
The Pope was also under the hospitality of the military hotels and its major establishments.
In this context, the Pope was protected by thousands of soldiers and even the great prayer meeting on Saturday, with 21,000 worshippers, was held in the Air Defense Stadium in Cairo; where the army showed a film of the destruction of 54 churches destroyed by “terrorists” but restored by the army.
Will the Pope’s Visit Prove that Egypt is Safe for Christians?
Pope Francis met with al-Sisi and held talks with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayeb and the Coptic Pope Tawadros II. The Pope has been – if such a phrase can be used – the most pro-Muslim pope of modern times.
“However, no message of peace from him is going to stop ISIS in its campaign of cleansing the Christians from Sinai and attacking their churches – as it did earlier this month with suicide bombings in Alexandria and Tanta at a cost of 46 dead,” said the Independent, the British online newspaper.
There are perhaps 10 million Copts in Egypt – a mere 10 % of the population, a quarter of a million of them Catholics. Perhaps the Pope plans to comfort them – that is certainly what the Christians of Egypt tell you – but the Egyptian government, rather weirdly, believes that his visit will encourage “religious tourism”, Francis’s presence “proving that the country is safe”, according to one Egyptian journalist.
The British newspaper said,”This is a very dodgy assumption given that ISIS is on the warpath and once published a photograph of the Vatican with the black and white ISIS flag fluttering over it. ISIS, in other words, talks war. Francis talks peace.”
In this context, regarding religious tourism, Cairo newspapers have been quoting tourism officials as planning for an influx of Italian visitors in the wake of the Pope.
“This, too, is probably an illusion,” said the Independent .
Last year, an Italian student PhD student Guilio Regeni was found tortured to death on a highway outside of Cairo – which certainly didn’t do a lot for tourism. The Italians and human rights group said that his body has the signs of the Egyptian security services who are known for their brutal torture methods.
Accordingly, it isn’t the matter of ISIS only but the Egyptian security forces’ suppression that widened the level of attacks in Egypt after al-Sisi led a bloody military coup in 2013 against Egypt’s first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi.
Last week, the Guardian wrote,”Al-Sisi has turned what started five years ago as minor local unrest into an Egypt-wide jihadi insurgency.”
Al-Sisi’s approach to counter-terrorism has made things worse, not better.
The crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization that is committed to pursue its goals through electoral means, fueled a low-grade insurgency pitting jihadists in Egypt’s strategic Sinai Peninsula against government security forces.
Al-Sisi began cracking down first on the Muslim Brotherhood’s supporters after the military coup in 2013.
When pro-Morsi demonstrators staged a peaceful sit-in in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square on August 14, 2013, to protest Morsi’s ouster, Sisi’s military forces gunned them down and more than 1000 in a single day, and more than 40,000 people are jailed in a crackdown.
In the same context, a report from the German Council on Foreign Relations explained that “After the crackdown in Rabaa Square, there was a significant change in the insurgency’s rhetoric, behavior, intensity, and scale of operations, as well as in its overall narrative and goals.”
The report quotes one jihadist leader in Sinai linking this directly to Sisi’s repression,”After what happened after the military coup, fighting the armed forces became an urgent necessity,”the leader said.
In 2014, the Sinai jihadists swore allegiance to ISIS. Since then, Sinai militants has led excessive campaign against the Egyptian security forces. Sisi’s repressive response, which has included evicting thousands of families suspected of supporting the jihadists from their homes, has failed to contain and curb the insurgency.
Moreover, the number of terrorist in Egypt between (2014-2016) reached 1,165, according to Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
In the last quarter of 2016, 104 terrorist operations took place across the country.On October 31, 2015, Sinai Province drowned a Russian passenger airliner, Metrojet Flight 9268,over north Sinai following its departure from the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing 213.
In addition, ISIS affiliated group also started to target Egypt’s Copts who are one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East. They have long complained of discrimination and that the government does not do enough to protect them.
Last December, an Islamic State affiliate claimed a suicide bombing at a Cairo church that killed around 30 people, mostly women, as well as a killing several Christians in northern Sinai that caused hundreds of them to flee to safer areas of the country.
In addition to the two recent Church attacks in the beginning of this month.
The first bomb went off at a Coptic Christian church in the Nile Delta town of Tanta, killing at least 27 people and wounding over 70.
Hours after the first bomb, another bomb exploded at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria, killing at least 17 people and wounding 38 just after Pope Tawadros II finished services, as reported by the Associated Press.
His aides later told local media that he had escaped unharmed.
The latest assault was considered as another challenge to Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has pledged to protect the Christians as part of his campaign against extremism.
Al-Sisi’s repressive military regime has actually strengthened jihadists narrative as they have argued that violence was the only way to topple the Middle East dictators.
In this context, Pope’s Francis secured visit isn’t the solution to get Egypt out of the dark tunnel, but good governance, justice, political participation and civil rule.
In this case, militants narrations wont’s find a way to diffuse their ideas which find its way now as they claimed that it was a bitter “we told you so.”
They are saying, “You have to listen to us as ballot boxes have no use and what we have been saying all along that all these people understand is violence.”