Egypt’s Coptic Christians celebrated Christmas on Wednesday, and the country’s Muslim president, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, gave them an extra reason to be optimistic: this year He stopped by the Coptic cathedral in Cairo, the first Egyptian president ever to do so, on Christmas Eve. Al-Ahram reports:
El-Sisi arrived at Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo’s Abbasiya district during the mass and gave a brief speech before leaving instantly.
He said that both of Egypt’s Muslims and Christians are celebrating this occasion, asserting that they are “one entity” in the world’s eyes.
He added that he had to come to congratulate the Coptic community and then apologised for interrupting the mass.
Video footage broadcast by State TV – covering the full mass – showed crowds cheering as El-Sisi entered the Cathedral with churchmen and saluted Pope Tawadros II.
Former Egyptian heads of state have visited the Cathedral including Gamal Abd El-Nasser and interim President Adly Mansour, but this is the first time for a president to attend the mass.
Just over a year and a half ago, the cathedral, St. Mark’s, fell under attack from a Muslim mob that killed two Christians, and the Egyptian security forces, then under the command of elected Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi, did nothing to stop the attacks or actually joined in them.
Sadly, the battles are not over in Egypt: Sisi has ruled with some degree of authoritarianism, though he’s also popular. Two policemen were shot on Tuesday outside a church in southern Egypt — but it’s a far cry from when police were watching those Upper Egyptian churches burn.
A translation of Sisi’s short speech is here.