MUMBAI, India – A leading Egyptian Jesuit says fundamentalists want to cause conflicts among Muslims and Christians in Egypt.
Father William Sidhom said the Muslim Brotherhood, an international conservative Islamic political movement founded in Egypt in 1928, wants “to make their own imaginary religious country on the Egyptian blood.”
The priest serves as the secretary general for the Committee for Justice and Peace of the Association of the Catholic Hierarchy of Egypt.
Sidhom spoke to Crux after the latest deadly attack against Christians, which was on Dec. 29, when a militant opened fire outside a suburban Cairo church, killing at least nine people.
A militant group affiliated with the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for most attacks on Christians in the country, including a series of killings that forced scores of Christian families last year to flee their homes in northern Sinai.
However, Sidhom said the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a strong popular following in Egypt, is the organization trying to stir up trouble between the different faiths.
“They want to make things bad between Egyptian Muslims and Christians to create a distortion, because this is the only way to break Egypt,” the priest said. “Because Egypt is very strong, and they have no other option to make a division between people, except through religious things.”
Christians – the vast majority of whom are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church – make up about 10 percent of the country’s population of nearly 90 million people.
After the Arab Spring protests which overthrew President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi became president after 2012.
After a series of decisions which critics said were aimed at concentrating power in his hands, a series of demonstrations took place against his rule. Morsi was removed in a coup d’état on July 3, 2013, with the support of leading Christian and Muslim religious leaders.
Minister of Defense and Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, became president the next year.
“Our position now is not for Sisi, but for the Egyptian people – Muslim and Christian – and their future,” Sidhom said.
In a show of solidarity with Egypt’s Christians, Sissi on Saturday made a symbolic appearance at an Orthodox Christmas Mass in a new cathedral as tens of thousands of soldiers and police deployed outside churches across the country in anticipation of possible attacks by Islamic militants.
Most of the Orthodox Churches, including the Coptic Church, celebrated Christmas on January 7.
In Cairo and across much of the Muslim majority country, soldiers in full combat gear joined the police in protecting churches, most of which are now equipped with metal detectors.
The new cathedral in which the Mass took place – which can house 9,000 worshippers and is said to be the largest in the Middle East – has been named Christ’s Nativity and is located in Egypt’s new Administrative Capital, a 45-billion-dollar, under-construction project, about 28 miles east of Cairo.
The Christmas Mass consecrated the new cathedral and marked the first time in living memory that the liturgy was not held at St. Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of the orthodox church in central Cairo.
“We, with the grace of God, are offering a message of peace and love from here, not just to Egyptians or to the region, but to the entire world,” Sissi told the congregation while standing next to Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
“I always say this and repeat it: Destruction, ruin and killing will never be able to defeat goodness, construction, love and peace. It’s impossible,” said Sissi. “Pay attention, you are our family. You are part of us. We are one and no one will ever drive a wedge between us.”
Sidhom said the majority of Egyptians hold the same sentiment the president expressed Saturday night.
“Some Muslims are contaminated with the terrorist ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, but the majority of Muslims are sympathetic with the Christians, and against terrorism and violence. All of us as a country are suffering,” the priest said.
This article incorporated material from the Associated Press.