Ashraf Ramelah discusses Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi’s recent appointment of two Coptic governors, his possible motives for doing so, and how the appointments fit into the larger picture of Islamic politics in Egypt.
Egypt: President appoints two Christian governors, defying Islamic Sharia
by Ashraf Ramelah
In Egypt, the president appoints the governors of the country’s provinces. This practice began with President Nasser after the end of the kings’ era. Last month President Al-Sisi appointed two Christian governors to two principally Christian provinces — the highest concentration of Christians in all of rural Egypt — located in Upper Egypt and West Egypt. This is monumental in a country where Islamic sectarianism dictates politics.
When Al-Sisi took office in 2013 for a four-year term, he immediately appointed new governors, all Muslim, for each of the 27 provinces, as did his predecessors — Mubarak, Sadat, and Nasser. Now in the beginning of his second term, Al-Sisi replaced two of his original governors at the end of their six-year terms with two Christians — the first time in modern history that some all-Christian towns would have a Christian administration. However, there was one earlier unsuccessful attempt at this by Egypt’s military interim government (SCAF) in 2012 after Mubarak was ousted.
This has inspired an outpouring of positive enthusiasm from Egypt’s Coptic community bringing hope and optimism where disappointment and anger was mounting against the Al-Sisi government by many. It remains to be seen as of yet if any opposition will come from the Muslim community and if their terror elements will respond with violence.
Egyptian Copts in the diaspora are also pleased with the president’s appointments. Social media commentary and op-eds indicate the feeling that Al-Sisi is taking Egypt in the right direction. There is talk about equal rights, equal opportunity and progress toward liberal democracy and leaving Sharia principles in the dust. Al-Sisi’s appointments are in striking contrast to the status quo of the erosion of rights and common decency toward the lives of Copts in Egypt in recent decades.
Before Nasser’s time, such appointments or elections were not extraordinary news but a regular matter. Prior to the coup of 1952, Copts were involved in Egyptian political life after Mohammed Ali detached the country from Turkey (at the fall of the Ottoman Empire). The Decree of Equality between citizens allowed Copts to be governors of provinces, and it was commonplace for Copts to serve as provincial governors. Under King Fouad I, Wissa Wasef, a Copt, became the president of the Egyptian Parliament twice (03/1928-07/1928 & 01/1930-10/1930).
With Al-Sisi’s recent appointments, it looks as if the president has a high regard for the pre-Nasser era. However, when all of the current governmental actions or inactions are taken into account an accurate and truer picture comes to light. Does this picture show improvement for human rights and liberty inclusive of the Coptic minority community, or are things getting worse?