(AP) Egypt’s Christian pope blasts Islamist president
By HAMZA HENDAWI
The leader of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church on Tuesday blasted the country’s Islamist president over his handling of the recent deadly sectarian violence, including an attack on the main cathedral in Cairo.
The remarks by Pope Tawadros II underscore rising Muslim-Christian tensions in Egypt. They were Tawadros’ first direct criticism of President Mohammed Morsi since he was enthroned in November as the spiritual leader of Egypt’s Orthodox Christians. They are also likely to fuel the political turmoil roiling the country for the two years since the ouster of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Tawadros said Morsi had promised him in a telephone conversation to do everything to protect the Coptic cathedral, “but in reality he did not.”
Asked to explain Morsi’s attitude, Tawadros, who spoke in a telephone interview to a political talk show aired on the private ONTV network, said it “comes under the category of negligence and poor assessment of events.”
On Sunday, an angry mob of Muslims threw firebombs and rocks at the Coptic cathedral in Cairo, leaving two people dead.
The attack followed a funeral service for four Christians killed in sectarian clashes in a town north of Cairo early the day before. A fifth person, a Muslim, was also killed. It was the deadliest sectarian violence since Morsi came to office nine months ago as the country’s first freely elected president.
Tawadros also criticized the president over his decision on Monday to revive a state body mandated to promote equality between Egyptians regardless of their religious and ethnic background. Morsi’s decision was in response to the sectarian violence.
Morsi has strongly condemned the recent violence and said that he considered any attack on the cathedral to be an attack on his personally. He also ordered an investigation into the violence.
The office of Morsi’s assistant for foreign relations issued a statement shortly after the pope’s remarks, saying that the “Egyptian presidency would like to affirm its full rejection of violence in all its forms, and under any pretext, and affirms that all Egyptians are citizens who should enjoy all rights and are equal before the law.”
Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s estimated 90 million people. Copts have complained for decades that the Christian minority suffers from discrimination, and recurrent localized violence over issues of building houses of worship or inter-religious love stories that ignite Muslim-Christian tension.
But attacks against Christians have increased since the 2011 ouster of Mubarak, including more attacks on houses of worships and at times forced evictions of a whole community of Christians from their villages.
With Islamists increasingly empowered in Egypt’s politics, Christians have also increasingly worried about their freedom of worship and belief.