On April 9th, suicide bombers attacked two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt. The bombings, which were claimed by ISIS, killed at least 49 people. These attacks came at a particularly bad time for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Egypt seems like a new target for ISIS attacks, but in reality there may be a possibility of seeing more violence there in the future.
The Copts have a history of being persecuted and discriminated against in their own country. They have also experienced violence at the hands of ISIS. In early 2015, an ISIS propaganda video showed 21 Egyptian Copts beheaded by ISIS militants. Despite increased security at churches, on Sunday a bomber was able to sneak into St. George’s church in Tanta, Egypt and detonate a bomb near the altar. Around two hours later, another man tried to enter St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, Egypt. Police were searching him when he detonated his bomb.
These attacks did not come at a good time for President Sisi. He returned on Friday from a meeting with United States’ President Donald Trump, where Sisi hailed as being successful against the fight on extremism. Pope Francis is also set to visit Egypt later this month and meet with Coptic Pope Tawadros. Sisi has issued a three-month emergency state in Egypt.
Why would ISIS target Egypt and the Copts? It is important to note that in ISIS’s opinion, jihadist movements have not taken off in Egypt. In a study by ISIS supporter Abu Mawdud al-Harmasy, al-Harmasy found that a ‘key for jihadi success’ in Egypt is killing Christians to ‘inflame certain rural areas’. Therefore killing Copts is seen as a way to increase ISIS support in Egypt.
The question that remains is how Egypt can protect the Copts and other Egyptians from ISIS. One key is ensuring that these attacks do not ‘inflame’ areas. Currently, Egypt has blasphemy laws that limit what non-Muslims can do and say, but leaves the door open for extremists to continue hate speech against minorities. Changing these laws to include protections for Copts and other religious minorities would be a good start. Also, continuing to combat ISIS not only militarily, but also ideologically is key to ensuring that more attacks like these will not take place. One can hope that these attacks also cause any popular support for ISIS to wane due to the killing of civilians. What these attacks show is that the world still has a long way to go in combating the threat of ISIS.