CAIRO — The architects of the military takeover in Egypt promised a new era of tolerance and pluralism when they deposed President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood last summer.
Nine months later, though, Egypt’s freethinkers and religious minorities are still waiting for the new leadership to deliver on that promise. Having suppressed Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters, the new military-backed government has fallen back into patterns of sectarianism that have prevailed here for decades.
Prosecutors continue to jail Coptic Christians, Shiite Muslims and atheists on charges of contempt of religion. A panel of Muslim scholars has cited authority granted under the new military-backed Constitution to block screenings of the Hollywood blockbuster “Noah” because it violates an Islamic prohibition against depictions of the prophets.
The military leader behind the takeover, Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, often appeals to the Muslim majority in a language of shared piety that recalls #Anwar_el-Sadat, nicknamed the believer president, who invoked religious authority to bolster his legitimacy and inscribed into the Constitution the principles of Islamic law.
Mr. Sisi, a former general who stepped down to run for president, often portrays himself as the champion of a benign understanding of Islam, accusing his Islamist opponents of twisting the faith.
“Islam has never been like this,” Mr. Sisi said while addressing his fellow Muslims in a televised speech in August. “It has never scared anybody or terrified anybody, regardless of whether the person it is addressing is good or bad.”
But the clerics closest to Mr. Sisi can be harsh toward those they deem bad Muslims.
Last month, for example, state television cameras followed Mr. Sisi to a military installation for a Friday Prayer service led by Sheikh Ali Gomaa, a former mufti and a close Sisi ally. During the broadcast, Sheikh Gomaa referred indirectly but unmistakably to Mr. Sisi’s Islamist opponents as a “faction of hypocrites” who were “plotting schemes against the Muslims.” He lauded the soldiers and police officers who fought such “terrorists.”
“Blessed are those who kill them, as well as those whom they kill,” Sheikh Gomaa declared. The cameras caught Mr. Sisi listening attentively.
Using religion to legitimize the “coup leaders” and undermine their opponents has become extensive, said Emad Shahin, a respected political scientist who left Egypt because the new government charged him with conspiring against it.