London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Pope Tawadros II, leader of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, has accused Muslim Brotherhood affiliated President Mohamed Mursi of “negligence” following the deadly sectarian clashes that have swept the capital.
Pope Tawadros II called a live current affairs program in Egypt on Monday night to criticize president Mursi, in a move that may serve to inflame the sectarian unrest gripping the country.
The Coptic Pope said that Mursi “promised to do everything to protect the cathedral but in reality we don’t see this.” He emphasized that this “comes under the category of negligence and poor assessment of events.”
Two people were killed and at least eighty-four injured in the attack on Cairo’s St. Mark’s Cathedral on Sunday. They had been attending the funerals of four Copts killed in sectarian clashes in a north Egyptian town just one day earlier. Eye-witness reports claim that security forces and local residents, many of them armed, launched a prolonged and unprecedented attack on the seat of Egypt’s ancient Church lasting well into the night.
Pope Tawadros II, who also bears the official title, Patriarch of all Africa on the Holy See of St. Mark, told ONTV, “We need action not only words . . . there is no action on the ground.”
He added, “The Egyptian Church has never been subject to such [attacks], even in the worst ages.”
He also told the phone-in program that “some officials have expressed kind feelings” adding, “these feelings are not enough at all.” He emphasized that the situation in the country has reached the state of “open aggression against the Copts.”
The tone of Pope Tawadros II’s latest statements represents a significant departure from the conciliatory tone adopted by the Church leadership since the Egyptian revolution.
However such rhetoric is not unprecedented for a Coptic Pope, and Tawadros’s predecessor, Pope Sheouda III, began his papacy with similarly fiery outbursts against the presidency of Anwar Sadat.
Reports indicate that Pope Tawadros may have been angered by a statement from a presidential aide blaming the cathedral siege on the Copts.
Mursi aide Essam Al-Haddad issued a statement saying that the violence had been sparked by “an argument over graffiti comprised of Christian symbols on the wall of an Al-Azhar building.” He claimed that this dispute escalated and resulted in “the killing of a Muslim Egyptian” which was followed by the killing of four Christians.
Christians form approximately ten percent of Egypt’s population. Sectarian tension between the Christian minority and Muslim majority has steadily risen following the Egyptian revolution, particularly following the election of an Islamist-led parliament and government. Controversy over Egypt’s new constitution, which many believe fails to protect the rights of Egypt’s Christians and other minorities, have only served to further escalate tensions.
Other Egyptian groups continue to attempt to promote Muslim-Coptic solidarity, and hundreds marched from Al-Fatah Mosque in central Cairo to St. Mark’s Cathedral yesterday to denounce the recent sectarian violence.
A number of secular political parties took part in this march, including the Egyptian Democratic Party, the Tagammu Party, and the Kefaya Movement. They chanted: “The Christians and Muslims are from one hand.”