Egyptian president discusses plight of the Christians in first meeting with US evangelicals in Cairo

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gives an address after the gunmen attack in Minya at the Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, May 26, 2017 in this handout picture courtesy of the Egyptian Presidency. | The Egyptian Presidency/Handout via Reuters

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi met with U.S. evangelical leaders in Cairo for the first time on Wednesday to discuss a number of issues, including the government's fight Islamic extremists and the plight of the Christian community in the country.

According to Haaretz, Sisi opened the meeting by expressing his condolences for the victims of the terror attack in New York on Tuesday and he reiterated Egypt's commitment to helping the U.S. in fighting terrorism

Among the evangelical leaders present at the meeting were Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins, informal Trump administration advisor Johnnie Moore, Egyptian-born Christian pastor Michael Youssef, and former U.S. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

The meeting was also attended by Andrea Zaki, the leader of the Protestant community in Egypt, and Egypt's General Intelligence Services Chief Khalid Fawzi.

The evangelical leaders discussed the situation of Egypt's Christian community, which has been targeted by extremists over the past year.

The meeting, which lasted nearly three hours, was arranged by evangelical author Joel Rosenberg, who first met Sisi when the president went to Washington D.C. for a state visit in April.

During Sisi's visit to the U.S., Rosenberg had discussed with Egyptian officials the idea of arranging a meeting between the Egyptian president and evangelical leaders, noting that no such meeting has taken place in recent history.

"I was going to say they rolled out the red carpet for us but I don't want to leave the impression that we are being treated like royalty. What they are doing is that it has become clear that they want a friendship, they want a relationship with evangelicals," Rosenberg told The Christian Post in a phone interview.

Rosenberg, who lives in Jerusalem and has dual Israeli and American citizenship, said that the meeting was only supposed to last for an hour, but the president spent nearly three hours with the group.

The evangelical author noted there have been some improvements with regards to the situation of Christians in Egypt under Sisi, who took office in 2014.

"It's really terrorism persecuting Christians. In Egypt, there are certainly challenges with local security services and local leaders. But at the national level — post-Muslim Brotherhood being in charge — there is still a lot of difficulties of changing the system," the author said.

"President el-Sisi is trying to change the system. He passed the first churches law to build churches and renovate churches, the first real reforms in 150 years," he added.

During the meeting, the group also discussed the prospects for peace between Israel and the Arab world.

Sisi stated that he wanted to "build on the legacy" of the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated by Islamic extremists after he signed a peace agreement with Israel in 1978. He also expressed support for the efforts of President Donald Trump's administration to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Egypt had been instrumental in forging the recent reconciliation deal between the two leading Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, an issue which also came up at the meeting.

After the meeting with Sisi, the evangelical leaders met with Sadat's widow, Jehan Sadat, who told the group about her husband's efforts to secure peace with Israel.

The evangelical delegation also met with a group of at least 60 Egyptian Christian leaders on Wednesday.

"They have lived through Hell and their appreciation and admiration for el-Sisi was striking. They didn't hesitate. We are talking about a man who rescuing the country ... and their lives and freedoms have been saved," Rosenberg said.