Among the new governors who have recently sworn allegiance to the government and institutions before President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, there is also a Coptic Christian woman. Manal Awad Mikhail, the new governor of the province of Damietta (located on the Nile delta, about 200 km from Cairo) will be the first non-Islamic to hold the prestigious post, so far almost exclusively assigned to Muslim males.
In the past the Christian official held the position of vice-governor of the province of Giza. Born on June 1, 1967 in Tanta, she graduated in Veterinary Medicine in 1989, and then obtained a master’s degree in 1995. For her work and research in the field of immunology she has received numerous awards at national and international level, including a UNESCO prize last year.
The new presidential appointments concern 22 of the 27 governorates into which the country is subdivided, including Cairo, Giza, Luxor, Aswan and North of Sinai. In this area the military have long started a campaign against extremist groups and jihadist militias.
This is not the first time for President Sisi to appoint a woman to lead a substantial part of the territory. Last year, in fact, he chose the Muslim Nadia Ahmed Abdou as governor of the province of Buhayra, confirming a prominent role of women in society and in institutions. However, the government reshuffle wanted by al-Sisi in these days concerned Ahmed Abdou herself, who is no longer in charge of Buhayra.
In a nation of almost 100 million people with a large Muslim majority, the Copts – the name of the Christians of Egypt – are a substantial minority, equal to about 10% of the total population and among the oldest in the Middle East. Last year the country recorded a series of bloody attacks, involving the same Christian community – which in the past had long complained of discrimination and poor representation – and caused over one hundred victims.
The Christians of Egypt, Copts and Catholics, are among the main supporters of the current president, the author of the coup d’état when he was at the top of the army that led to the expulsion of his predecessor, Mohammad Morsi, close to the Muslim Brotherhood Islamic extremist. The current executive includes eight women among ministers, the highest in the modern history of the nation.