Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1327, (12 - 18 January 2017)
Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Issue 1327, (12 - 18 January 2017)

Ahram Weekly

A Christmas message to the terrorists

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi attended his third consecutive annual visit to the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo on Christmas Eve, reports Michael Adel

On Coptic Christmas Eve on 6 January, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi delivered two messages to terrorist groups during his visit to the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral. He emphasised that the churches were the houses of God and he congratulated Egypt’s Christians on Christmas Eve, saying the celebration was a deed that pleased God.

During his speech at the Cathedral, Al-Sisi said that “I stand in one of God’s houses” and prayed for the safety of Egypt and its people. “Is it not a good deed to come here to extend my congratulations to the people,” he asked. “It would be wrong to think that this is a bad thing to do.” Al-Sisi was criticising those who may consider that for Muslims it is religiously forbidden to congratulate Christians on the Christmas celebrations.

Receiving Al-Sisi at the Cathedral was Pope Tawadros II, pope of Alexandria and patriarch of the See of St Mark. The pope thanked Al-Sisi twice during his speech after the latter ordered his guards to step aside so he could shake hands with the congregation who had showered him with flowers.

In attendance at the Christmas mass were ministers, officials, public and religious figures, members of parliament and political party leaders. Al-Sisi visited the Cathedral amid heavy security measures, made tighter after the bombing of the Boutroseya Basilica located next to the Orthodox Cathedral last month, killing 28 worshipers.

The security services had intensified their presence inside and outside the Cathedral. Police dogs, metal barricades, metal detectors and electronic gates had been added to the Cathedral’s main entrance on Ramses Street, which was opened to receive officials and public figures whereas the two other doors were closed.

Another door was opened on Al-Demerdash Street to receive the press and Copts invited to attend the mass. Policewomen helped in inspecting the women attendees.

At 8pm, an hour before Pope Tawadros II headed into the mass, guards dispersed in the Cathedral signalled the arrival of Al-Sisi, who for the first time arrived before the beginning of the mass.

The convoy of the president arrived while the pope was coming out of the papal headquarters amid a procession of deacons and bishops heading to the Anba Rweis Church where the Christmas mass was to be held. Pope Tawadros stopped to receive Al-Sisi before both proceeded to the church in the footsteps of the procession, discussing renovations taking place at the Cathedral in preparation for celebrating 50 years since its construction next year.

As the head of state and pope entered the church, the bells tolled, the deacons started singing hymns, Egypt’s flag was held up high, and women ululated. Al-Sisi and Pope Tawadros were showered with flowers, while people shouted “we love you, Mr President… Long live Egypt.”

Al-Sisi’s warm reception led him to ask his guards to step aside in order that he could shake hands with the congregation. Al-Sisi kissed a young girl who put a wreath of flowers around his neck after he asked one of the bodyguards to allow her to approach him.

Al-Sisi then presented a bouquet of white flowers to Pope Tawadros as a simple token to congratulate him and all Copts on the advent of Coptic Christmas and to remember the martyrs of the Boutroseya Basilica. As Al-Sisi was giving his speech, people were heard thanking him for restoring their churches, while a woman lifted a placard on which was written “we will continue with you no matter how tough the road.”

Al-Sisi left the Cathedral after he had delivered his speech, following which the pope headed the Christmas mass. Pope Tawadros gave a speech in which he commenced by saluting the dead and injured from the Boutroseya Basilica attack before thanking President Al-Sisi for his visit and the promises he had made.

He praised Egypt’s new administrative capital project, thanked the attending officials, and gave an address on “looking up to heaven.”

He reiterated his confidence that Egypt would improve and said that the Church was praying for the country. He said that “if we have some problems, they will be solved, and our country will enjoy stability, safety and growth. We pray for peace in the lands of struggle in the Middle East.”

To the media, the pope stated that Al-Sisi’s visit to the Cathedral had been a “surprise I knew about only a few minutes earlier.” He said Al-Sisi’s annual visit to the Cathedral was a mark of civility, befitting Egypt’s image.

Speaker of Parliament Ali Abdel-Aal gave a speech at the Cathedral in which he said that “Christmas is an Eid for all Egyptians,” recalling the late Pope Shenouda’s saying that “Egypt is not the homeland we live in. It’s the homeland that lives in us.”

“We hope to achieve the project of the journey of the Holy Family from Al-Arish to Palestine because it is a project for all Egyptians,” Abdel-Aal said, referring to a route commemorating the journey the Holy Family made in Egypt. He then expressed his hope for more laws to be passed guaranteeing equality among all citizens.

On Christmas day, Father Andrea Zaki, head of the Anglican Communion in Egypt, said that Al-Sisi’s visit to the Coptic Cathedral was a historic one for the Muslim-Christian relationship in Egypt and underlined the need for equality among all citizens.

He said that since Al-Sisi had become president Coptic-Muslim relations had witnessed positive developments, and he said that Egyptian institutions and the media had much to learn from the president. He continued that Egypt served as a model for the Arab region, since it had successfully maintained its unity amid crises and strife aimed at creating tension between Egyptians.

Father Zaki also mentioned Al-Sisi’s intention to construct a new religious complex in the new administrative capital, sending out a strong message of unity among all Egyptians.

While Egypt’s Copts celebrated Christmas Day in churches across Egypt, Al-Sisi’s initiative to donate LE200,000 to build a church and a mosque in the new administrative capital gave rise to positive reactions among MPs, who said they would follow the president’s lead and reject a bill proposed by a member of the US House of Representatives called the “Coptic Churches Accountability Act” that aimed to spread dissension among Egyptians.

The MPs pressed for the renewal of religious discourse in Egypt and the banning of materials calling for strife between Muslims and Christians.

MP Amna Nosseir called on parliament to donate to the building of the new administrative capital’s church and mosque in response to Al-Sisi’s initiative. “These donations are a message to all those who want to force things on us from abroad,” she said, revealing that she had personally donated LE100,000 to the project.

“Where were you when our churches were being burned at the hands of those you allegedly protect,” she questioned, adding that she would send this question to the US Congress in the context of its discussion of the “Coptic Churches Accountability Act”.

The Anglican Church in Beni Mazar in the Minya governorate was burned by the Muslim Brotherhood group in August 2013. It is now being rebuilt by the Armed Forces as part of the third phase of renovating churches destroyed by the Brotherhood. Five other churches will be rebuilt in the near future.

The work includes the renovation of Minya’s Coptic Orthodox Anba Moussa Church, the Amin Bek Ibrahim Medical Complex, the service building of Mar Guirguis Church and the historic Monastery of Anba Ibram in Delga.

In Minya alone, 65 per cent of churches were destroyed at the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, or 19 churches and Christian institutions, in addition to hundreds of houses and shops owned by Copts.

The second phase of the reconstruction work was completed last year and included the Minya Apostolic Church, a church in Seneim village in Abu Qurqas, and the Anglican Church in Dini village in Samalout.

Other institutions that were successfully restored include the Prince Tadros Church, the Christian Youth Association Building, Minya’s Anglican Association’s Nile Cruiser, the Coptic Catholic Church of the Holy Family in Malawi, the Mar Guirguis Church in Belhase village, the Baptist Church in Samalout, and the Anglican Church in Malawi.

Coptic Orthodox Egyptians celebrated Christmas across the world on 7 January. Festivities in Bethlehem in Palestine, the birthplace of Jesus, were marked by celebrations that saw the attendance of tourists as well as locals at the city’s Church of the Nativity.

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