(First Things) – Egypt’s Coptic Christians follow the Julian calendar in celebrating Christmas on January 7th of each year. For the second consecutive year, Egyptian president Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi surprised them with an exceptionally kind gesture, once again personally attending their Coptic Christmas Eve mass and offering them his well-wishes. He is the first Egyptian President since 1952 to attend Christmas Eve Mass. All previous presidents—Naguib, Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak, and Morsi—never attended Coptic Christmas mass, which is the most important celebration in any given year for Egypt’s Copts.
Egypt is a majority-Muslim nation. Most of its Muslims are Sunni. While there are no official statistics, Egypt’s Christians constitute around 12 percent of the 90 million people who make up the most populous Arab country. Al-Sisi is well-known as a committed Sunni Muslim. He came to power in June 2014, after the revolution of Egypt’s people against former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, calling on the military for the termination of the devastating tenure of the Muslim Brotherhood regime.
According to various news accounts, Al-Sisi entered St. Mark Cathedral on Coptic Christmas Eve and was greeted with joyful cheers and jubilant applause. The Coptic Pope, Tawadros II, as well as tens of Coptic Bishops and deacons, warmly welcomed the President. His speech was often interrupted by clapping and cheers of “We love you” from the attendees.
This gesture is remarkable.
Al-Sisi is increasingly winning the hearts of Egypt’s Copts. His first words in the Coptic mass were: “Merry Christmas to you [Copts], and to all of us [Muslims and Christians].”
He situates himself in contrast with his Muslim Brotherhood predecessor, Mohammed Morsi, whose rule witnessed unprecedented sectarian tensions against Christians. The events included attacks on the Coptic Cathedral by thugs, vigilantes, and Muslim Brotherhood police forces for the first time in history. More than 58 other Coptic churches were set ablaze…