In an unprecedented move, the head of Egypt’s 2,000-year-old Coptic Christian Church, Pope Tawadros II, recently slammed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi for what he called a weak response to violence that left several Christians dead and its religious institutions violated. Pope Tawadros’s statements come at a time of increasing political deadlock and the threat of economic collapse in Egypt.
Halim Meawad, co-founder of Coptic Solidarity, a U.S.-based international Coptic Christian human rights organization, told JNS.org that Pope Tawadros’s statement was “very significant” and had far-reaching implications.
On April 5 in the village of Khosous, north of Cairo, a local dispute between youths escalated into violence that left four
Christians and one Muslim dead, according to Time Magazine. Two days later, during a funeral for the four Christians
at St. Mark’s Cathedral in central Cairo, Christian mourners were attacked after leaving services. One Muslim and one Christian were killed, and another 89 were injured. Police responded late to the attacks and fired tear gas into the
Cathedral’s grounds, terrifying the Christians there.
During a subsequent interview with the Egyptian TV station ONTV, Tawadros said that the Egyptian state was “collapsing” and described the attacks on Christians at St. Mark’s Cathedral, which serves as the seat of the Coptic papacy, as “breaching all the red lines,” the Associated Press reported.
During the interview, Tawadros called out Morsi’s response to the attack, saying his attitude “comes under the category of negligence and poor assessment of events.” Tawadros added that Morsi told him in a telephone conversation that he would do everything to protect the cathedral, “but in reality he did not.”
Since being elevated to the Egyptian Papacy late last year, Tawadros has taken a more outspoken approach in speaking out against persecution of Christians in his native Egypt. Last fall, he took the unprecedented step of criticizing Egypt’s new constitution as too Islamist and biased against Christians.
“His predecessor, Pope Shenouda III, refrained from directly confronting [President Hosni] Mubarak and his regime. But it looks like the current Pope Tawadros is fed up, especially with the unprecedented attack on the cathedral,” Meawad told JNS.org.
Nathan Brown, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, told JNS.org that the recent attack is unlike most other Muslim-Christian violence.
“There have been episodes of sectarian tension before, but the violence at the Coptic cathedral was still deeply shocking to many Egyptians. This is in a central location, and the incident cannot be explained away as a dispute among families that got out of hand, as are many incidents [between Muslims and Christians] that take place in villages or poorer neighborhoods,” Brown said.
For Coptic Christians, and also many Muslim Egyptians, the institution of the Coptic Church and St. Mark’s
Cathedral are symbols of national pride that connect Egyptians to their pre-Islamic and even their Pharaonic past.
“The Coptic Church has been national symbol of the Egyptian people for thousands of years; it has always been recognized as a national institution. This attack cannot be ignored,” Meawad said.
By Sean Savage/JNS.org