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 Mohamed Morsy 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 Hosni Mubarak.
Tawadros said Mr. Morsy had promised him in a telephone conversation to do everything to protect the Coptic cathedral, “but in reality he did not.”
Asked to explain Mr. Morsy’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 Mr. Morsy came to office nine months ago as the country’s first freely-elected President.
Tawadros also criticised the President’s decision on Monday, in response to the sectarian violence, to revive a State body mandated to promote equality between Egyptians regardless of their religious and ethnic background.
“Enough already of formations, committees and groups and whatever else,” Tawadros said.
“We want action not words and, let me say this, there are many names and committees but there is no action on the ground,” he added.
Mr. Morsy has strongly condemned the recent violence and said that he considered any attack on the cathedral to be an attack on him personally. He also ordered an investigation into the violence.
The office of Mr. Morsy’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.”
“The Presidency further stresses that it will not allow any attempts to divide the nation, incite sedition, or drive a wedge among Egyptians under any pretext and that it is doing all it can to realise the sovereignty of law and hold the assailants accountable,” the statement added.
Christians make up about 10 per cent of Egypt’s estimated 90 million people. Copts have complained for decades that the Christian minority suffers from discrimination and recurrent localised 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 Mr. 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.