x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Egypt's Christian pope slams Islamist president

The leader of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church has blasted Mohammed Morsi over his handling of recent deadly sectarian violence, including an attack on the main cathedral in Cairo.

CAIRO // The leader of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church yesterday blasted the country's president over his handling of recent deadly sectarian violence, including an attack on the main cathedral in Cairo.

The remarks by Pope Tawadros II underscore rising Muslim-Christian tensions in Egypt. They were his first direct criticism of Mohammed Morsi since he became the spiritual leader of Egypt's Orthodox Christians in November. They are also likely to fuel the turmoil that has racked the country since the fall of Hosni Mubarak two years ago.

Egypt is already split into two camps, with Mr Morsi and his Islamist allies in one and moderate Muslims, Christians and liberals in the other. The schism is essentially over Egypt's political future after decades of dictatorship, a divide that has been compounded by a worsening economy and tenuous security.

An open conflict between Mr Morsi's government and the church could push Egypt to the brink of civil strife.

Pope Tawadros also warned that the state was "collapsing" and described Sunday's attack on the St Mark Cathedral as "breaching all the red lines".

He said Mr Morsi had promised to do everything to protect the cathedral, "but in reality he did not".

Asked to explain, Pope Tawadros said it "comes under the category of negligence and poor assessment of events". It was not clear whether he was accusing Mr Morsi or the president's government.

A presidential spokesman said Mr Morsi was in "constant contact" with the church over the violence and had sent aides to offer condolences to victims.