(Candidates for leading the Coptic Church Father Bakhomius of Virgin Mary in Wadi Natroun (L), Father Seraphim of Virgin Mary (R) and Father Rafael from St Marina Monastery (C) talk during the mass held at the Klod Bek Coptic Church in Cairo October 22, 2012. The mass was held to introduce the five bishops nominated to succeed the late Pope Shenouda III who died on March 17, 2012 at the age of 88. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox church has moved a step closer to picking a new pope when the shortlist was whittled down to three in a process the Christian minority hopes will deliver a leader to guide them safely through the upheaval of the Arab Spring.

The previous incumbent, Pope Shenouda III, led the church for four decades until his death in March at the age of 88. His successor will assume the post in a fast-changing Egypt where long oppressed Islamists are now in power – a major shift that is a source of alarm for the minority Christian community.

A shortlist of five candidates was reduced to three by an election on Monday in which 2,256 voted out of 2,417 people picked by the church to have the right to vote.

Which of the three emerges as the 118th pope will be decided on November 4 when a blindfolded child picks one of the remaining candidates.