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Coptic Pope Turns Up the Heat - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Coptic Pope Tawadros II, head of Coptic Orthodox church, gestures during an interview with Reuters in Cairo, April 25, 2013. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)

Coptic Pope Tawadros II, head of Coptic Orthodox church, gestures during an interview with Reuters in Cairo, April 25, 2013. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Coptic Pope Tawadros II has further stoked sectarian tensions in Egypt by calling the official account of clashes at Cairo’s Saint Mark’s cathedral on April 7 “a pack of lies.”

In the first official interview since sectarian clashes erupted in the Egyptian capital earlier this month, the Coptic Pope emphasized that Egypt’s Christians feel sidelined, ignored, and neglected by the Muslim Brotherhood-led authorities.

“There is a sense of marginalization and rejection, which we can call social isolation,” the pope told Reuters.

Regarding the Egyptian authorities response to this month’s attack, the Coptic pope said: “It made a bad judgment and it was negligent . . . I would have expected better security for the place and the people.”

Sectarian attacks in Egypt have increased since the Muslim Brotherhood took power in the country following the Egyptian revolution. Most recently, four Christians and one Muslim were killed in the town of El Khusus, north of Cairo. Following this, the funerals of the Copts killed in El Khusus, held at Cairo’s central Saint Mark’s Cathedral, was attacked, forcing mourners to seek refuge in the church. One person was killed and at least 84 injured in this unprecedented attack on the seat of the Coptic Pope.

Pope Tawadros II said, “Sometimes we get nice feelings from officials, but such feelings require action, and the actions are slow, and maybe a little, and sometimes don’t exist at all.”

He added, “After the last incidents, we gained some promises from the authorities and the government, from some ministers, but till now there is nothing new.”

The Coptic Pope’s statements echo previous criticisms of President Mohamed Mursi, during which Tawadros said that Mursi “promised to do everything to protect the cathedral, but in reality we don’t see this.”

“This comes under the category of negligence and poor assessment of events,” the Coptic Pope said in the wake of the attack.

Speaking to Reuters on Thursday, Pope Tawadros II poured scorn on the official accounts of the cathedral attack, particularly one promoted by Mursi’s national security adviser, Essam Haddad.

“It is 100 percent rejected. This statement was in English, directed to the US State Department, and was sent with a CD to explain their position and to cover up, but this statement is a pack of lies. It did not tell the truth,” Pope Tawadros said.

Haddad’s statement, posted on Facebook, had claimed that Christians had instigated the clashes by vandalizing cars outside the cathedral, and that firearms and petrol bombs had been used by the Coptic mourners, rather than their attackers.

“They [the Christian mourners] did not come to make violence, they came for a funeral, and when they came out of the church, they started to be subjected to violence. And hence they acted. There is a difference between action and reaction,” Pope Tawadros emphasized.

There was further sectarian violence in Egypt on Friday as police were called to the small rural town of Wasta in Beni Suef to protect a church from Muslim protesters. Protesters surrounded the small Coptic Church, accusing its leadership of helping a Coptic-convert to marry and flee the country.

Protesters, reportedly affiliated with Islamist groups, surrounded the Saint George Church following a month-long ultimatum to return the girl, who they claim was kidnapped and forcibly converted to Christianity. Security forces fired teargas and clashed with the angry demonstrators who attempted to storm the church following Friday prayers; five people were arrested for throwing Molotov cocktails at the church.