In response to suicide bombings targeting Coptic Christians on Palm Sunday, CNN reports, Egypt declared a state of emergency in an attempt to expedite the country’s crackdown on terrorism.
Egypt’s cabinet approved the state of emergency declaration put forth by President Sisi in the wake of dual attacks by the self-proclaimed Islamic State, granting government authorities broad new powers to combat the threat of violent extremism.
According to BBC News, among the newly enacted measures made permissible by this ratification are powers that allow police to make arrests without warrants, search citizens’ houses at will, execute intrusive surveillance, and limit the freedom of movement. Additionally, the state of emergency greatly expands the allowed domestic scope of military unit activities.
This increased legal authority, as Reuters reports, has heightened the fears of some Egyptians and human rights groups who believe that the newfound powers could lead to the suppression of free speech, the imprisoning of political opposition figures, and the widespread torture of citizens and residents who have not even committed criminal offenses. These concerns are not without merit as many of these reservations are based on the events that followed both the ousting of President Mubarak in 2011 and President Morsi in 2013 wherein human rights were often determined to be violated.
The twin bombings of two Coptic Christian churches, which killed 45 and injured over 120, come at the beginning of Holy Week, the most sacred week of the Christian liturgical calendar. The timing of these occurrences, given their religious significance, highlights the Islamic State’s continuing efforts to divide Coptic Christians, who make up 9 percent of Egypt’s population, from Muslims, who collectively make up over 90 percent of the populace. These attacks are just the latest in a long string of incidents of violence perpetrated by ISIS against the religious minority, dating back to 2015 when the terror group filmed a mass beheading largely viewed as the originating point of their tirade in Egypt.
Interreligious tensions have been increasingly strained following the coup that brought President Sisi to power, a move that many Christians viewed favorably but which proved divisive in the Muslim community, according to The New York Times.
President Sisi’s efforts to combat terrorism have also proven to be controversial causing some in the Sunni community to believe they are being unfairly discriminated against for political gain. As The Washington Post reports, though Sisi’s recent meeting with United States President Trump served to bolster his legitimacy as head of state, his rule nonetheless continues to be a source of discontent between Egypt’s religious sects, among whom popular opinion remains divided.
The terrorist strikes come mere weeks before Pope Francis’ planned visit to the North African nation. Pope Francis, in response to these atrocities, expressed his sorrow at the attacks, stating that he was praying that God would “convert the hearts of those who sow fear, violence and death, and those who make and traffic arms.” In line with these statements, despite the aggressive attempts by some to divide Egypt and foster greater regional instability, the Catholic News Agency reports, the supreme pontiff remains committed to traveling to Egypt at the end of April. Pope Francis, according to Vatican officials, hopes that his visit can promote constructive ecumenism leading to improved Catholic-Muslim dialogue and relations, thus lessening the specter of terrorism and division in Egypt moving forward.