EGYPT: COPTIC CHRISTIANS CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS AMID TIGHT SECURITY

CAIRO, The head of the Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, led midnight mass in the cathedral of Egypt’s new administrative capital on Saturday, a service attended by President Abdel Fattah al Sisi.

The mass, on the eve of Coptic Christmas which is celebrated on Jan 7, was the first to be held in the newly-built cathedral and took place amid tight security. Sisi was cheered by worshippers as he entered the building.

The new Egyptian capital, announced in March 2015, is intended partly to reduce crowding in Cairo.

Some 45 km east of Cairo, the city, which has not yet been given a name, will be home to government ministries, housing and an airport.

The celebrations were held days after attacks on a Coptic church and another Christian-owned shop that left more than 10 people dead.

Egypt’s large Christian minority has increasingly been targeted in recent years by Islamist militants including Daesh, which is waging an insurgency in the north of the remote Sinai Peninsula.

Police had bolstered security around the country’s churches for days, especially at the cathedral east of Cairo where President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to pay his respects to the ancient community.

He walked in alongside Coptic Pope Tawadros II and took to the altar amid ululations and cries of “we love you”.

“We love you too,” he responded. “You are our family, you are from us, we are one and no one will divide us.”

Sisi said the cathedral, in a new administrative capital Egypt is building, was a “message to the world, a message of peace and a message of love”.

Military and political officials also attended the mass, conducted in a mix of ancient Greek and Coptic.

Tightened security around the cathedral and other churches were testament to fears of a another attack.

Police set up barriers around the church and spread out on the street leading to it while congregants took pictures before a Christmas tree outside.

Within the church, some congregants had small Egyptian flags and used cellphones to take pictures of public figures as they entered.

Daesh militants have taken aim at other civilians, including more than 300 Muslim worshippers massacred at a mosque last November.

But they have focused on the ancient Coptic community, the largest Christian group in the Middle East.

In December 2016, an Daesh suicide bomber killed almost 30 worshippers at a church in Cairo located in the Saint Mark’s Cathedral complex, the seat of the Coptic papacy.

In the Sinai Peninsula, where Daesh is based, hundreds of Christians were then forced to flee after a wave of assassinations.

Daesh militants killed more than 40 people in twin church bombings in April and a month later shot dead almost 30 Christians as they headed to a monastery.

The year ended with an daesh militant killing nine people in an attack on a church in a south Cairo suburb.

Copts, who make up about 10 per cent of Egypt’s 96 million people, have long complained of discrimination and intermittent sectarian attacks.

Source: NAM NEWS NETWORK