Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi greets Egyptian Coptic Pope Tawadros II, head of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church, at the Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt July 28, 2016 (Egyptian Presidency)
Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi told the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church Pope Tawadros II on Thursday that all Egyptians are equal in their rights and duties in accordance with the constitution during a meeting held in the wake of recent sectarian attacks in Upper Egypt.
Last week, Muslim assailants set ablaze Christian homes in the village of Abu Yacoub in Minya over a rumour that a Christian intended to turn a kindergarten into a church.
Also last week, a Muslim mob stabbed a Christian to death in Minya’s Tahna village during a street dispute.
The two incidents were the latest in a string of incidents involving attacks on Christians in Upper Egypt in the past month.
Presidency spokesman Alaa Youssef said in a statement that El-Sisi stressed during the meeting with the pope the importance of maintaining unity among all Egyptians.
The Egyptian president praised the "wise and patriotic" spirit that Egyptian Christians have displayed in dealing with challenges throughout the past few years, and warned of the danger posed by those who would use religion as a tool for division or to foster extremist ideas.
El-Sisi also praised efforts of the Egyptian Family House, a semi-official group of Muslim and Christian leaders who promote peaceful coexistence, and stressed the importance of increased cooperation between Al-Azhar and the Coptic Church.
He added that these “individual incidents” should not damage the good relations among Egyptians.
Following the meeting, the Coptic Orthodox Church released a statement where Pope Tawadros II expressed his gratitude to the Egyptian president for inviting him to the meeting.
According to the Church, the pope told El-Sisi that all citizens should stand together to work for the country's interests and accomplish the aspirations and hopes of the Egyptian people.
Last week, El-Sisi warned of anyone attempting to drive a wedge between Egyptians and vowed to hold violators accountable.
In May, Muslim villagers torched seven Christian homes and assaulted a Christian man's elderly mother in Minya's El-Karm village, parading her naked in public. The assault was sparked by rumours that the man was having an illicit relationship with a Muslim woman.
El-Sisi asked the mother to "not be angered" by what happened to her, promising that those responsible would be brought to justice.