Egypt’s Coptic Pope Shenouda, religious peacemaker and Mubarak ally

March 18, 2012

(The body of Pope Shenouda III, the head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, is displayed for public viewing inside the Abbasiya Cathedral in Cairo March 18, 2012. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Pope Shenouda, who died on Saturday at the age of 88, was Egypt’s highest Christian authority, working for more than 40 years to keep the peace between the Muslim majority and the Christian minority.

On the occasions when Christian protesters took to the streets to complain about discrimination against them, the late Coptic Pope chose to stay silent so as not to inflame tensions.

When Egypt’s Islamists won the majority of seats in parliament earlier this year in a move that privately alarmed many Christians, he chose to keep his counsel for the same reason.

“The church decided to take a silent stance and wait to see what would happen,” a church official said.

Pope Shenouda was appointed the 117th Pope of Alexandria, the state’s highest Christian rank, in November 1971, and was respected by Egypt’s Christians and Muslims alike.

Christians constitute the largest minority group in Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation of over 80 million people. Most Egyptians are Sunni Muslims, but it is estimated that there are around 12 million Christians too.

In the last three years, Egypt has been convulsed by an average of two serious outbreaks of sectarian violence a year. Hundreds were killed and thousands injured.

On most occasions, the Egyptian church under the leadership of Shenouda refrained from making any public criticism of the Egyptian authorities even when his its followers protested, complaining of discrimination and lax security around churches.

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