Sisi Is Condoning the Persecution of Christians

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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi reacts after delivering a speech at the lower house of parliament in Tokyo on February 29. Reuters

This article first appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations site.

There are a lot of fans of Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi nowadays in Washington who argue that he is fighting terrorism and deserves American support.

Those fans ought to be aware of the ongoing persecution of Christians, which Sisi could act strongly to prevent—but does not. A very good example is the case of four Christian teenagers who have just been convicted under Egypt's "blasphemy" laws—and sentenced to five years in prison, the maximum penalty.

Their crime? They made a 30-second video, never meant to become public, mocking the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). The video satirizes a group saying (Muslim) prayers and then going off to behead people—and was made soon after ISIS beheaded a group of Copts.

The full details are available in a good summary article published by the Atlantic Council. Apparently, the video was taken to be an insult to Islam, and rioting and destruction of Christian property and homes followed. No one was ever punished for those crimes, of course.

In fact, blasphemy laws are, in Egypt as elsewhere, used mostly against Christians. The daily insults of Christianity, mocking Christian beliefs and calling Christians "infidels," continue in Egypt.

It is possible for President Sisi to tell the prosecutor general to appeal these sentences, or to pardon these four teens himself. That is exactly what supporters of Sisi in Congress and the Obama administration should be asking him to do.

And if he will not, they ought to be asking themselves what kind of Egypt he is creating, and why we want to support him in those efforts.

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Sisi Is Condoning the Persecution of Christians | Opinion