Pope Francis poured it all into Egypt

lemondedesreligions.fr, Eugenie Segalas, 2017-04-26

Pope Francis will meet the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II, Egyptian President al-Sissi and the religious Al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of the Al-Azhar Institute. The trip comes nineteen days after two bloody attacks on two Coptic churches by the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

“During the April 5 press conference organized by the Oriental Mission at the headquarters of the bishops of France in Paris, the Coptic Catholic bishop Youssef Abou El Kheir of Sohag in Upper Egypt recalled: “Pope Francis refuses to bind the Islam or any other religion to terrorism.

During this meeting, many personalities presented the political, diplomatic and religious issues of the Pope’s apostolic visit. Theology professor Christian Cannuyer warned: “Despite a certain external stability, Egypt remains a country in danger”. Professor Cannuyer, an Egyptologist and expert on the Coptic community, said the country was “prone to violence, despite its desire for peace”.

Egypt “the key to the future of Eastern Christianity”

According to experts, the future of Eastern Christianity “is not in Iraq or Syria, nor in Lebanon”. If the Coptic Christian community represents less than 10% of the Egyptian population, “but it actually has about 6 million believers”, and it is the largest Christian community in the Arab world. Indeed, Egyptian Christians are “less immigrants than Christians from other countries”, for the simple reason that they have no financial means: they are a “countryside” people.

Professor Christian Cannuyer has expressed concern over the “explosive” situation in the Sinai Peninsula, where dozens of Coptic families have fled their homes after being targeted by violent Muslim actions. In fact, the Egyptian branch of the so-called Islamic State has made the Coptic Christian community a prime target. Last February, a video of Muslims circulating online clearly showed their hatred of Christians.

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Professor Christian Cannuyer emphasized respect for Francis when he said the Coptic patriarch was “Pope Tawadros II”. And he presented himself as “bishop of Rome” from the start of his pontificate. The subtle reminder of the title of “pope” for the bishop of the diocese of Rome dates back to the sixth century, as recalled by the university community. By using this word, Francis shows that he is a bishop like all the other bishops in the world.

It was in this unity and humility that the pope expressed his support for the Coptic patriarchate when the attack on two churches on Palm Sunday, April 9, left 44 dead: “I express my deep condolences to my dear brother, Pope Tawadros II.”

A complex Islamic-Christian dialogue

Another highlight of this visit: the meeting with Patriarch Al-Tayeb, the Grand Iman of the Al-Azhar Chapel, the highest Sunni institute in Egypt. The two men met in the Vatican in May 2016 and established contact between the two religious organizations. In the past, relations deteriorated after the 2011 attack on the Copts, when Pope Benedict XVI denounced “religious intolerance” for dissatisfaction with the Institute. After that, the Institute unilaterally terminated all relations.

According to Professor Christian Cannuyer, Archbishop Al-Tayeb holding a position of supreme authority at the Al-Azhar Institute “is not of ambiguous innocence”. Indeed, although Bishop Ahmed Al-Tayeb advocates regrouping dialogue, he recently affirmed that apostasy “is in theory a crime punishable by death”. However, during a press conference in Cairo on the concept of citizenship in Egypt on February 28 and March 1, the Grand Imam said, “Christians cannot be considered a minority, a word with negative connotations.” The Grand Imam is an Islamic opinion leader against terrorism.

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A stressful situation

Egyptian President al-Sissi must overcome another balancing act. According to the Egyptologist, it is a character who stammers: “The character does not allow himself to be seen immediately by others.” Professor Christian Cannoyer commented: “President al-Sisi has no answer to Islam, other than a return to a forced state. The national leader of Solidarity with the Copts showed a certain “openness to Christian society and to an Islam that dares to look back into its own depths”.

And this is the context of the apostolic visit of Pope Francis in this tense situation. A country where freedom of religion is guaranteed, but “without freedom of conscience”, stressed Professor Christian Cannuyer, explaining that a progressive citizenship regime will become apparent when “religious change is in place. “Religion or not to changing religion” will be guaranteed.

Through these meetings, the professor hopes that the “wisdom of the Pope” in the dialogue with his partners, “not on the stage facade”, makes it possible to understand that “the answer to religious extremism is not an appeased religious discourse , but an affirmation. of citizenship which must take precedence, necessary to move towards an “open secularism”.