Egypt President Makes Rare Visit to Coptic Pope

The highly symbolic visit to Pope Tawadros II at the papal seat at Cairo's St. Mark's Cathedral by Adly Mansour was the first such visit since socialist leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser attended the cathedral's consecration ceremony more than 40 years ago.

Mansour's visit underlined the secular outlook of the military-installed government and signals a dramatic departure from the sectarian rhetoric of some of the more radical allies of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi during his one year in power and the tension and distrust that defined their relations with Christians.

Morsi, who had consistently maintained that he was president for all Egyptians, was ousted by a popularly backed coup on July 3 and is now on trial on charges that carry the death sentence.

A draft constitution Egyptians will vote on later this month in a nationwide referendum enshrines equality between all Egyptians and instructs the next parliament to legislate a new law that will facilitate the construction and upkeep of churches.

"The visit is an expression of the appreciation by the Egyptian state of its Christian citizens who have offered a great deal while standing side by side with their Muslim brethren for the nation's glory," said presidential spokesman Ehab Badawi.

Also on Sunday, a court convicted two prominent activists and sentenced them to one-year suspended sentences for attacking the election headquarters of a former presidential candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister to serve under autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt's Christians account for some 10 percent of the nation's 90 million people. They are mostly members of the Orthodox church, one of Christendom's oldest. They long have complained of discrimination by the nation's Muslim majority.


Morsi, a longtime leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, complained in a public speech just days before his ouster that leaders of the church came to see him wearing insincere smiles, and accused them of being unnecessarily afraid of Islamist rule. Morsi's Islamist allies adopted sectarian rhetoric and charged that Christians were key instigators of street protests against Morsi's rule.


For his part, Pope Tawadros had taken the unusual step of publicly criticizing the president, rejecting an Islamist-tilted constitution adopted in 2012 that, in his view, was discriminatory and compromised the human rights of Egyptians.

Tawadros, enthroned in late 2012, has publicly endorsed the coup.




In August, Morsi supporters destroyed, looted or burned dozens of churches and church-linked facilities across Egypt. Christian homes and businesses also were attacked. The wave of anti-Christian violence followed the breakup of two sit-in protests by Morsi supporters by security forces in an operation that killed hundreds. Some Christians complain that security forces had expected the attacks but failed to take measures to prevent them or to defend them and that work has yet to begin on the reconstruction of the destroyed churches nearly five months after the attacks.

Associated Press