Late Sunday night at an otherwise quiet curbside café in Cairo, customers put down their tea and backgammon. They sat riveted, watching Egypt’s president pledge retaliation against the Islamic State in Libya.
Earlier in the day, jihadists released a video of the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians. Following President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s declaration of a week of mourning, the channel switched to images of the orange-clad victims, walking to their death on the shores of Tripoli.
“Do you see that?” one customer exclaimed, rising to point out the scene to his friend. “They dressed the Copts like in Guantanamo. This is horrible!”
The remark demonstrates the gut-level reaction of Egyptian Muslims, contrary to the desires of the Islamic State.
“There has been a very strong response of unity and sympathy,” said Andrea Zaki, the newly-elected president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt. “People are describing Copts as Egyptians, first and foremost, and with their blood they are unifying Egypt.”
In the wake of the beheadings, President Sisi visited Pope Tawadros in the Coptic Orthodox cathedral to express his condolences. He dispatched his prime minister to Samalout, 150 miles south of Cairo, to visit the families of the victims and promise construction of a church in their name.
Sisi has also struck hard with his air force at Islamic State positions in eastern Libya. However, Egyptian Christians interpret this as more of a national defense move than a specific defense of their community.
“Egyptians now have a sense of relief, wondering if Sisi would act on his words,” said Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic newspaper Watani. “It was not done ...1