Voices from Russia

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria Names New Patriarch


On Sunday, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa chose Bishop Tawadros Sulaymān as its new Patriarch and First Hierarch, to lead the Middle East’s biggest Christian community after dramatic political changes in Egypt swept Islamists to power. In a sumptuous ritual filled with prayer, chants, and incense at St Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Abbassia in Cairo, a blindfolded child picked the 60-year-old bishop’s name from a glass bowl in which the names of all three candidates were placed. Tawadros replaces Patriarch ShenoudaRoufail, who led the church for four decades until he died in March at the age of 88. Many look to the new patriarch to ensure that the voice of Christians, who have long complained of discrimination in Egypt, is heard.

4 November 2012

Voice of Russia World Service



On Sunday, Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church chose a new patriarch, Tawadros Sulaymān, in a sumptuous service and Christians hope he will lead them through an Islamist-dominated landscape and protect what is the Middle East’s biggest Christian community. Christians, who make up about a tenth of Egypt’s 83 million population, worry about political gains made by Islamists since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster last year. They blamed radical Islamists for attacks on churches several times since, but Copts have long complained of discrimination in Muslim-majority Egypt. In a ritual steeped in tradition and filled with prayer, chants, and incense at St Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Abbassia in Cairo, the names of three candidates chosen in an earlier vote were placed in a wax-sealed bowl before a blindfolded boy picked out one name.

Copts, who trace their church’s origins to before the birth of Islam in the 7th century, believe this long-established selection process ensured worldly influences wouldn’t determine the successor to Patriarch Shenouda Roufail, who led the church for four decades until his death in March at the age of 88. The locum tenens, Bishop Bakhomious, who was dressed in gold-embroidered robes, said, “Patriarch Tawadros is the 118th (leader of the church), blessed congratulations to you”. As he held the name aloft, the congregation in the packed cathedral applauded. One of the clergy present said that the formal ceremony to install Bishop Tawadros, 60, as patriarch would take place on 18 November.

Some Christians criticised Patriarch Shenouda for being too close to Mubarak. Church analysts say he was partly prompted to take a strong advocacy role in the Mubarak era because many Christians withdrew from public life, complaining of discrimination, leaving the patriarch their main defender. Youssef Sidhom, editor of the Coptic newspaper Watani, said, “Patriarch Tawadros faces different rules of the political game. Copts are now encouraged, and even encouraged by the Church, to get out and participate in the political arena”.

The new patriarch, bishop of a region in the Nile Delta north of Cairo, was shown on television surrounded by priests and praying at Patriarch Shenouda’s tomb at the Syrian Monastery in Wadi el-Natrun in the Western Desert. In comments broadcast on television, bearded, bespectacled, and in black priestly robes, Tawadros thanked God, praised his predecessor and said, “I carry love to all our brothers in Egypt”. Church experts said that Tawadros trained as a pharmacist before becoming a priest, he possesses strong communication skills, and that he stands for peaceful co-existence in Egyptian society.


Coptic activist Peter el-Naggar welcomed the choice, adding, “He isn’t the kind of man who’d compromise our rights”. Marina Nabil, 20, said amid the applause after the ceremony that lasted several hours, “I’m so happy. I’ve had dealings with Bishop Tawadros before; he’s a very wise and calm man”. Muslim leaders and politicians offered congratulations and voiced hopes that he’d foster greater national unity. In a ballot last week, the candidates were whittled down to three. Voters included leading Church members, public figures, and a handful of representatives of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which has historic links with the Coptic Orthodox Church. The other two candidates for the post were Bishop Rafael, a 54-year-old who qualified as a doctor before entering the priesthood, and Fr Rafael Afamena, a 70-year-old monk who studied law before taking on holy orders.

Echoing worries of many Copts, shopkeeper Michael George said, “Christians fear Islamist rule, especially, because their presence encourages radicals to act freely”. Since Mubarak’s ouster, Christians complained of several attacks on churches by radical Islamists, incidents that sharpened longstanding Christian complaints about being sidelined in the workplace and in law. As an example, they point to rules that make it harder to obtain official permission to build a church than a mosque. Sectarian tensions often flared into violence, particularly in rural areas where rivalries between clans or families sometimes add to friction. Romantic relations between Muslims and Christians are regularly to blame for clashes.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the mainstream Islamist movement from which President Mohamed Morsi Isa El-Ayyat emerged to win power via free elections, swore to guard the rights of Christians. Morsi congratulated Patriarch Tawadros and the head of his Freedom and Justice Party, Mohamed Saad Tawfik El-Katatni, said on his Facebook page, “I’m optimistic about fruitful cooperation with (the patriarch) as spiritual leader of our Coptic brethren”. Christianity spread into Egypt in the early years of the faith, several centuries before Islam emerged from the Arabian Peninsula and then swept across North Africa and beyond. The Coptic Orthodox church is the biggest Christian group in Egypt, although there is also a much smaller Coptic Catholic entity, as well as other small groups affiliated to churches abroad.

4 November 2012

Yasmine Saleh

Shaimaa Fayed

Omar Fahmy



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