Pope Tawadros II, the head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, said on Tuesday that the Church’s support of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi's efforts to improve Egypt's image abroad is an act of patriotism, not politics.
In a live interview with ONTV channel, Pope Tawadros said that President El-Sisi's visits abroad aim to “present the new Egypt” and that the church's support should not be seen as a political act.
Last month, the pope urged Egyptian Coptic expats in the US not to demonstrate in front of the White House hours before a planned protest over attacks against Christians in Egypt. The pope argued that such demonstrations do not help or change the situation, but instead “stain the image of Egypt locally and internationally.”
Pope Tawadros said that the recent sectarian violence that took place in Upper Egypt's Minya is not a sign that Egypt suffers from sectarian strife. He described Minya as a special case, saying that it suffers from “a high population rate, high illiteracy rates and few development projects.”
Last month, 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.
Last week, a Muslim mob stabbed a Christian to death in the village of Tahna – also in Minya – during a street argument.
Tawadros also defended the law recently passed by parliament facilitating the process of constructing churches.
Egyptian Christians, estimated to make up over 10 percent of the country's population of 90 million, have long struggled to obtain the official permits required to build churches, with the process at times taking years.
"We [Copts] have been asking for such a law for the past 160 years," the pope said, adding that the absence of such a law was the reason behind most of the sectarian violence that took place over the past years.
However, the church had expressed disapproval over some of the articles in the new bill before it was passed by parliament.
Before its approval, the Coordinating Group on Citizenship and Civil Forces – which includes intellectuals, human rights advocates and several Coptic activists – warned that Church representatives were being “pressured” to accept a bill that would “lead to the return of crisis.”
However, Tawadros said that having a law now guarantees that “the right [to build a church] can be obtained through court.”