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Francis on the Nile: The pope visits Egypt

A visit by Pope Francis will not solve the problems plaguing Egypt’s Christians

Cairo, Apr.28."Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” So said Manuel II Palaiologos, a Byzantine emperor, of Islam’s founder. Some six centuries later, in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI used the quotation in a speech about reason and religion. The Muslim world was not pleased.

Jorge Bergoglio, then a cardinal in Argentina, criticised Benedict’s comments. In 2013, when Father Bergoglio succeeded Pope Benedict, taking the name of Francis, he immediately called for more interfaith dialogue. Two weeks later, when the new pope washed the feet of prisoners in Rome, a Christian ritual, he included two Muslims. In 2014 he toured Jordan, Israel and Palestine, further mending the Vatican’s relations with Islam.

Pope Francis hopes to continue improving relations between Christians and Muslims when he visits Cairo on April 28th-29th, the first such trip since Pope John Paul II visited Egypt in 2000. He will meet Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s president, and Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar, the Muslim world’s oldest seat of learning. (Pope Francis has previously hosted both men at the Vatican.) But easing the plight of Egypt’s Christians, known as Copts, will require a much greater effort. The task of keeping them physically safe is beyond the pontiff’s powers.

The pope’s visit comes amid a wave of violence against the Copts, who make up about 10% of Egypt’s population. Earlier this month, on Palm Sunday, terrorists bombed two Coptic churches, in Tanta and Alexandria, killing 47 people and injuring dozens more. The attack was claimed by Islamic State (IS), which has also targeted Copts in Sinai, forcing hundreds of them to flee. In December the group bombed a chapel next to the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, killing 24 people ...

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