Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, right, visits Coptic Pope Tawadros II, center, during Christmas Eve Mass at St. Mark's Cathedral, in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015 (Photo: AP)
Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has attended the Coptic Christmas mass to mark the first attendance ever made by an Egyptian president to the religious occasion.
El-Sisi arrived at Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo's Abbasiya district during the mass and gave a brief speech before leaving instantly.
He said that both of Egypt's Muslims and Christians are celebrating this occasion, asserting that they are "one entity" in the world's eyes.
He added that he had to come to congratulate the Coptic community and then apologised for interrupting the mass.
Video footage broadcast by State TV – covering the full mass – showed crowds cheering as El-Sisi entered the Cathedral with churchmen and saluted Pope Tawadros II.
Former Egyptian heads of state have visited the Cathedral including Gamal Abd El-Nasser and interim President Adly Mansour, but this is the first time for a president to attend the mass.
The annual Coptic mass was advanced by a tight security presence as Christian sites have been previously targeted by sectarian attacks.
On New Year’s Day in 2011, a deadly bombing at a church in Alexandria killed 23 people.
On Tuesday, unknown gunmen shot and killed two Egyptian policemen guarding a Catholic church in the southern Egyptian city of Minya.
Churches and Christian properties have also come under attack as a wave of violence spreads across Egypt, mostly focused on police and army personnel.
This was most notable on 14 August 2013 when the deadly dispersal of two pro-Morsi protest camps was followed by attacks on dozens of churches especially in Upper Egypt.
Coptic Orthodox Christians, who make up around 90 percent of Egypt’s Christians, break their 43-day fast and celebrate Christmas on 7 January, almost two weeks after most Western denominations. The difference results from the use of different calendars.