Pope Tawadros II continued his open criticism of the government’s treatment of Coptic Christians on Friday. “We have both acute and chronic problems,” said the pontiff when discussing the sectarian issues the country faces in a video interview with state-owned Al-Ahram.
The pope categorized the difficulties facing Copts into those of a religious nature and ones that present themselves as civil problems. He cited difficulties in building churches and issues with land as major religious problems.
Civil problems, according to the pope, manifest in different forms. Firstly, Pope Tawadros discussed “rumours” that are spread about the Church and are believed by other citizens, including allegations that weapons are stored in churches. Secondly, he mentioned systematic discrimination against Christians in certain segments of the job market. He also pointed to interreligious relationships that often result in collective retribution against Christian communities.
“I look after the Church as a spiritual institution,” said the Pope, when discussing the violence that took place at St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral. “It has a social role, but I am also an Egyptian citizen occupying an important place and I have to express [my opinion],” he added. “The picture in front of me is clear, and I’m speaking about it.”
He said he met with President Mohamed Morsi on Thursday during government proceedings for Sinai Liberation Day, and confirmed that he had met with many high-level government officials including Prime Minister Hesham Qandil and Minister of the Interior Mohamed Ibrahim. “But the situation requires actual action on the ground,” he said.
Pope Tawadros, who was made the Coptic Church’s 118th head in November, has increased his criticism of the government’s handling of sectarianism since the violence at St Mark’s Cathedral earlier this month following the funeral of four Christians killed in Al-Khasous.
In an interview with Reuters on Friday, the pope said that Christians were feeling a sense of social isolation and rejection. He referred to assistant to the president for foreign affairs Essam Haddad’s statement following the incident at the cathedral as a “pack of lies”.
The latest incident of sectarian strife occurred on Friday in the town of Al-Wasata in Beni Suef, when some Muslim residents surrounded Mar Guirguis Church in response to the disappearance of a 21 year old Muslim woman. Police surrounded the church and managed to keep angry protesters away, but clashes involving rocks, Molotov cocktails, and teargas broke out.
Security forces have reportedly issued warrants for 13 people allegedly connected to Friday’s violence.
The Ministry of Endowments condemned the attack on the Church on Saturday, saying that Islam was innocent of such criminal acts and calling for adequate protection for all places of worship.