Abdel Fattah el-Sisi_Coptic Pope

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (center, holding microphones) with Coptic Pope Tawadros II (left) as he attends Christmas Eve Mass at St. Mark’s Cathedral. (Reuters)

EGYPT – President visits Coptic Christmas Eve service 

CAIRO – President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Tuesday (Jan. 6)  visited the main Coptic Christian cathedral during its Christmas Eve Mass, and the Egyptian state news media declared him the first Egyptian president to attend such a service.

“Let no one say, ‘What kind of Egyptian are you?’ ” Mr. Sisi told the thousands of Christian worshipers, declaring that Egypt would rise above centuries of tensions between Muslims and Christians. “It is not right to call each other anything but ‘the Egyptians.’ We must only be Egyptians!”

The cathedral erupted in applause, and Copts, who make up about 10 percent of the roughly 85 million Egyptians, heralded Mr. Sisi’s appearance there as a milestone. It was also the latest demonstration of the increasingly tight alliance between Mr. Sisi, who led the military ouster of the Islamist president in 2013, and the Coptic Pope Tawadros II, a supporter of the military takeover who has enthusiastically endorsed the new government.

Many Egyptian Copts have long seen the conspicuous absence of Egypt’s presidents, all Muslims, from the Christmas celebration as a capitulation to the Muslim majority’s animosity toward Christians. Some ultraconservative Muslim clerics even urge their followers to avoid wishing a merry Christmas to Christian neighbors, much less attending worship in a church, and many Muslim politicians prefer to sidestep the issue.

Previous Egyptian presidents – including both Hosni Mubarak, the strongman whose three decades in power ended with the uprising in 2011, and Mohamed Morsi, the Islamist removed in the summer of 2013 after one year in office — have wished the pope a merry Christmas over the telephone but sent only a representative to attend the service.

egypt-mapMany Copts were alarmed by Islamist successes in Egypt’s free elections after the 2011 uprising, fearing new discrimination or marginalization, and many applauded Mr. Sisi for leading the military takeover. Some Coptic activists say that his government has failed to curb the biases in government and law enforcement, such as criminal prosecutions of Christians for blasphemy or cumbersome permitting procedures that restrict the building of churches.

But many Copts still regard Mr. Sisi as a national savior. And Pope Tawadros II has been a vocal supporter of Mr. Sisi’s heavy-handed drive for security and stability, recently declaring that the security of the Egyptian state was even more necessary than the church itself. In the last two weeks, Pope Tawadros has [urged] Christians not to dwell on the killings of 28 primarily Coptic demonstrators by troops in October 2011, during a period of military rule. He suggested that the mass killing had in fact been a plot perpetrated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

At the service Tuesday night (Jan.6), the pope beamed at Mr. Sisi’s unannounced visit. In footage broadcast on Egyptian television, Mr. Sisi seemed to appear by surprise, wearing a red tie and dark suit and surrounded by burly bodyguards. Standing by the pope’s side, the president spoke without notes…. The crowd chanted in adulation. …

“We will love each other for real, so that people may see,” Mr. Sisi declared. “A happy year for you and all Egyptians!”

Then, trailed by his bodyguards, Mr. Sisi left before the religious service got underway.

[NOTE: The Coptic Church celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7 of the Western calendar, following an older system that the Roman Catholic Church moved away from with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1582.]

FRANCE – French troops deployed across Paris to guard Jewish schools after Islamist terrorist attacks last week

French troops were deployed across Paris on Monday to guard Jewish schools after last week’s bloodshed in the French capital.


A soldier guarded a Jewish school in Paris on Monday as part of an extensive peacetime security operation. (Photo: Gonzalo Fuentes, Reuters)

Speaking outside an unamed school, military spokesman Colonel Benouit Brulon said they were part of a 900 strong forced deployed in the city of 2.2 million.

But it appears that many parents were not reassured enough to bring their children to school.

pF-I.EPSA director of one of the schools, Raphael Atlan, said at least 20 per cent of his pupils were absent, “a huge number.”

Earlier on Monday, France’s defense minister said the country was mobilizing 10,000 troops to protect the population.

Jean-Yves Le Drian said the deployment would be fully in place by Tuesday, and would focus on the most sensitive locations.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said 4,700 security forces would be assigned to protect France’s 717 Jewish schools.

NIGERIA – Boko Haram’s ‘deadliest massacre’: 2,000 feared dead in Nigeria

Hundreds of bodies – too many to count – remained strewn in the bush in Nigeria from a terrorist attack committed by the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram.

nigeria-boko-haramFighting continued on Friday around Baga, a town on the border with Chad where insurgents seized a key military base on January 3 and attacked again on Wednesday.

“Security forces have responded rapidly, and have deployed significant military assets and conducted air strikes against militant targets,” said a government spokesman.

District head Baba Abba Hassan said most victims are children, women and elderly people who could not run fast enough when insurgents drove into Baga, firing rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on town residents.

“The human carnage perpetrated by Boko Haram terrorists in Baga was enormous,” Muhammad Abba Gava, a spokesman for poorly armed civilians in a defense group that fights Boko Haram, told the Associated Press.

He said the civilian fighters gave up on trying to count all the bodies. “No one could attend to the corpses and even the seriously injured ones who may have died by now,” Gava said.

An Amnesty International statement said there are reports the town was razed and as many as 2,000 people killed. If true, “this marks a disturbing and bloody escalation of Boko Haram’s ongoing onslaught,” said Daniel Eyre, of Amnesty. …

The attacks come five weeks away from presidential elections which are likely to trigger even more bloodshed. Already under a state of emergency, the three north-eastern states worst hit by Boko Haram asked the central government for more troops earlier this week. The government has said voting will take place across Borno state although the worsening insecurity means few international observers are likely to get clearance to oversee voting in an area that is traditionally opposition-supporting.

Around 1.5 million people have been displaced by the violence, many of whom will not be able to vote in the polls under Nigeria’s current electoral laws.


Boko Haram also appears to be regionalizing the conflict, after threatening neighboring Cameroon in a video earlier this week.

The government has made no official comment on the alleged massacres. President Goodluck Jonathan skimmed security issues when he relaunched his re-election bid in front of thousands of cheering supporters in the economic capital, Lagos, on Thursday.

The five-year insurgency killed more than 10,000 people last year alone, according to the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations. More than a million people are displaced inside Nigeria and hundreds of thousands have fled across its borders into Chad and Cameroon. …

Boko Haram now controls an area of Borno and Yobe states in Nigeria (about the size of Maryland) with a population of 1.7 million. It is becoming a rival in size to the Islamic State (ISIS), with its own “Caliphate” in eastern Syria and western Iraq.

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at The NY Times on Jan. 6, London’s Daily Telegraph on Jan. 12 and The Guardian on Jan. 10.)


1. For each of the 3 countries, give the following information:
a) capital
b) location/the countries that share its borders:
c) the religious breakdown of the population:
d) the type of government:
e) the chief of state (and head of government if different) [If monarch or dictator, since what date has he/she ruled? – include name of heir apparent for monarch]:
f) the population:

[Find the answers at the CIA World FactBook website. For each country, answers can be found under the “Geography” “People” and “Government” headings.  Go to worldatlas.com for a list of continents.]

NOTE: Before answering the questions below, read the info under “Background” and watch the videos under “Resources.”

2. For EGYPT:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) What is significant about President al-Sisi’s visit to the main Coptic (Christian) church in Egypt?
c) What did President al-Sisi say to encourage the Egyptian Christians attending the mass?
d) Wikipedia reports that President al-Sisi comes from a religious (Muslim) family and frequently inserts Quranic verses into informal conversations. El-Sisi’s wife wears the traditional Islamic Hijab. What do you think of his visit to an Egyptian Christian church and his statements to the congregants?

3. For FRANCE:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) The French government is assigning security forces to France’s 717 Jewish schools. Approximately how many will each school be guarded by? Would this reassure you?
c) 20% of parents kept their kids home from one Jewish school in Paris on Monday. Ask a parent: “If you were Jewish and knew there was a likelihood of there being more Islamic terrorists poised to attack civilians, and especially Jewish civilians, what would you do with your kids?” “Would you keep them home from school? For how long?”

a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Read about Boko Haram under “Background.” They are the Islamist terrorists who in April kidnapped the schoolgirls and sold them as slaves. Do you think the U.S. should do anything to help Nigeria? Should we arm the civilians? Explain your answers.



Emergency workers said this week they are having a hard time coping with scores of children separated from their parents in the chaos of Boko Haram’s increasingly frequent and deadly attacks.

Just seven children have been reunited with parents in Yola, capital of Adamawa state, where about 140 others have no idea if their families are alive or dead, said Sa’ad Bello, the coordinator of five refugee camps in Yola.

He said he was optimistic that more reunions will come as residents return to towns that the military has retaken from extremists in recent weeks.

Suleiman Dauda, 12, said he ran into the bushes with neighbors when extremists attacked his village, Askira Uba, near Yola last year.

“I saw them kill my father, they slaughtered him like a ram. And up until now I don’t know where my mother is,” he told the Associated Press at Daware refugee camp in Yola. (from the Guardian article above)


  • Today, Boko Haram controls about 20,000 square miles of territory – an area the size of Maryland.
  • Within this domain, the black flag of jihad flies over scores of towns and villages scattered across the neighbouring states of Borno and Yobe.
  • The latest conquest was the fishing town of Baga on the shores of Lake Chad, which fell to the Islamists last Wednesday (Jan. 7, 2015).
  • “For five kilometres (three miles), I kept stepping on dead bodies until I reached Malam Karanti village, which was also deserted and burnt,” one surviving fisherman, Yanaye Grema, said.
  • Boko Haram’s fighters have now achieved mastery over 11 local government areas with a total population exceeding 1.7 million people, according to the official 2006 census.
  • Once, the movement’s fighters would launch hit-and-run attacks on defenceless villages. Now, Boko Haram’s realm stretches from the Mandara Mountains on the eastern border with Cameroon to Lake Chad in the north and the Yedseram river in the west.
  • The Nigerian army, crippled by corruption and incompetence, has shown itself unable to resist the jihadist advance.
  • Last September, Abubakar Shekau, the self-styled “Emir” of Boko Haram, proclaimed his ambition to conquer a “Caliphate” and follow the example of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
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