Rallies organised by Egyptian expats to show support for Egypt’s delegation in New York stirred controversy among the Coptic community.
Dozens rallied in Manhattan upon the delegation’s arrival, led by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, holding Egyptian flags and posters of the president, cheering for his support. Al-Sisi arrived in New York on Sunday to participate in the 71st debate of the United Nations (UN) general assembly.
In response, an online petition was launched on Monday, the first day of the debate, by Coptic activists in Egypt, criticising the move.
The petition, currently signed by more than 150 people, criticises many aspects of the rally. It rejects the church’s involvement in organising the rally, “whether it was voluntarily or upon order of the regime”.
Those who signed the petition consider the church to be a religious institution that does not have to be involved in political affairs. It stated that since July 2013, churches were used by the regime as representatives for the public in the Coptic community.
The petition said there has not been any improvement in the regime’s policies towards issues faced by the Coptic community, referring to the fact that past incidents of religious strife ended with customary reconciliation sessions, rather than legal action.
On the other hand, Nabil Megalla, an Egyptian expat from New Jersey and the organiser of the support rally on Sunday, told Daily News Egypt that he’s been supporting Al-Sisi since his appointment as president owing to his achievements.
“I have been living here for 35 years. I have never felt that I am an Egyptian until Al-Sisi took office,” he said. He mentioned that he had previously joined Egyptian expats in many protests in front of the White House against abuses to the Coptic community in Egypt, abductions, and the burning of churches, but there was no response.
He said: “Al-Sisi came to save Egypt. He renovated all the torched churches from 2013 and this did not cost the church anything.” But extremist religious discourse, according to Megalla, is the root of all problems in Egypt.
Regarding organising rallies, Megalla said it is notoriously strict. “We had to notify the [authorities] one month earlier ahead of the rally,” he said. He added that they may not bring any rocks, wooden or metal pieces, and must abide by the area allotted for them on the pavement.
Megalla estimated that there will be up to 60 buses coming from New Jersey to rally in support in front of the UN headquarters on Tuesday, when Al-Sisi is expected to address the general assembly.
There has recently been a spate of clashes between Muslims and Copts, especially in Upper Egypt, due to rumours of churches being built.
A customary reconciliation session took place in late June between Muslim and Coptic elders in the village of Al-Fashn in Beni Suef, after Muslim residents attacked a number of Coptic houses.
A new law, ratified by the parliament in late August on building churches, faced criticism by the Coptic Church.