You know the situation of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority is unenviable when their otherwise notoriously diplomatic pope starts to speak up.
From the start of his papacy in 2012, Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria made clear that he was not his predecessor, Pope Shenouda III, a man who always seemed to call it as he saw it—so much so as to be placed under house arrest for years by former President Sadat.
Far from having a strained relationship with the president of Egypt, Tawadros is seen as a close ally of President al-Sisi. The two often appear standing beside one another, shaking hands, and/or embracing.
And like his president, the pope holds the position that all Egyptians—Christians and Muslims—are brothers who live in peace, barring the unforeseen outbursts of some elements that “do not represent Egyptian society.” While many understand the delicate nature of the pope’s position and his need to be diplomatic, not a few Copts think he goes too far, behaving not unlike a cowed dhimmi who dares never object lest worse follow.
Even so, and as a representation of the apparently worsening plight of Egypt’s Christians, the normally passive pope uncharacteristically spoke out recently. According to an April 14, 2022 report,
Following multiple incidents targeting Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt during Ramadan, Pope Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and the Head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, released a statement urging the strengthening of co-existence.
In a statement released on the official Facebook page for the Coptic Church’s spokesperson, Pope Tawadros II condemned attacks on religious groups in Egypt.
Meanwhile, during a sermon at Anba Bishoy Monastery in Wadi El-Natrun, the Pope mourned the killing of the Priest of the Church of the Virgin Mary and Mar Boulos, Arsanios Wadid, on 7 April 2022, in a tragic crime where a 60-year-old man stabbed the Priest to death in Alexandria.…
The Pope also requested the authorities “responsible for maintaining peace” to carefully investigate the reports of disappearances and kidnappings of Coptic Christians that have been circulating across social media and television programs.
This came in response to a viral story about a woman named Mariam Waheeb, a Coptic Orthodox woman from Beni Swef, who was reported by social media users to have been kidnapped on 5 April 2022. Mariam later appeared publicly in a live video, on 12 April 2022, announcing that she had converted to Islam.
The Pope also seemingly condemned recent media coverage surrounding a Christian woman whose daughter was prevented from eating food at a restaurant before the breaking of the fast for Muslims…
Two days later, Egypt’s leading independent Arabic newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, published an article in print and online asking whether “infidels” (non-Muslims) should be served food before iftar. …
It is, of course, good that the spiritual leader of the Coptic people is speaking up—even if in circuitous and ambiguous language, for instance, by condemning “attacks on religious groups in Egypt,” when the only “religious group” that ever gets attacked is his own flock, namely, “Christians.” Similarly, he called on Egypt’s Muslims to observe common decency and exercise a sense of justice, though only through a distinctly Islamic paradigm: “We are currently living [in] a blessed month of fasting and worship,” Tawadros said in his statement regarding Ramadan. “So it is inappropriate to publish articles or broadcast videos that harm or offend any religious group in Egypt, to preserve the safety and stability of our country, and prevent the distortion of its image in front of ourselves and abroad.”
He also closed his statement in language that captures the talking points of Sisi’s government:
We live together in a new republic, whose renaissance is led by His Excellency President Abdelfattah Al Sisi with all the officials in all sectors. But this new republic is not only projects and achievements, which we are all happy with and proud of, it is also the renewing of minds and thoughts through education, correcting concepts, strengthening values of coexistence and true citizenship, and preserving the bonds of national unity.
The take away from all this? The situation for Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority is getting worse, not better. Meanwhile, the head of the Coptic nation apparently needs to continue walking that ultra-fine line, lest it gets even worse.