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As Egypt Picks Next President, Christians Play Biggest Political Role in Decades
Khaled Desouki / Getty Images
Egyptian Coptic priests wait to cast vote.

For Egyptian Christians, today's presidential election is not much of a contest.

Most support General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in appreciation for his role in deposing previous president Mohamed Morsi and ending the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. A smaller, younger contingent leans toward leftist politician Hamdeen Sabbahi out of appreciation for the revolution and skepticism of another military leader. But most on both sides expect Sisi will win handily, and most welcome the new era to come.

"This election [brings] great expectations to welcome a new Egypt with Muslims and Christians as equal citizens," said Fawzi Khalil, a pastor at Cairo's Kasr el-Dobara Church, the largest evangelical congregation in the Middle East.

But while most Christians are solidly in the camp of Sisi, many are taking advantage of the opening of political space after the January 2011 revolution to win leadership positions in a variety of political parties.

Before, Egyptian political figures preferred to interact with just one Christian figurehead on religious rights—typically a pope, such as the late Pope Shenouda of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Now, Copts can participate from several directions at once, believes Ishak Ibrahim, a Sabbahi supporter and researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

The current Coptic pope, Pope Tawadros, initially indicated he would keep the church establishment from playing politics with the government, but troubles from Morsi's policies increasingly prompted his criticism. Today, while the church officially stands neutral toward the two candidates, it enthusiastically endorses electoral participation.

"The Orthodox church is very aware of their authority ...

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