- (Photo: Reuters/Asmaa Waguih)
A spokesperson for the Coptic Church in Egypt said recently that the pope has canceled his weekly meetings at the Cairo cathedral due to his concern of increased hostility against Christian congregants.
"We fear that Pope Tawadros II might become a target of Islamist reprisal," Father Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Coptic Church in Egypt, said in a recent statement. "In recent weeks, after the fall of the Morsi administration, attacks and acts of intimidation against the Christian minority have occurred on a daily basis," Greiche added.
As a precaution, Pope Tawadros II has canceled his weekly events at St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo, out of concern that his congregation will be attacked by Islamic militants. The pope usually holds a weekly lecture series at the cathedral during which he discusses scripture with congregants, but this will be postponed until further notice.
Multiple media reports indicate that the minority Christian population in Egypt that makes up about 10 percent of the country's inhabitants has been suffering increased persecution since the removal of President Mohamed Morsi from power in early July. Supporters of Morsi's regime have blamed the Copts for their leader's ousting, accusing the church of playing a role in the president's recent removal.
Egypt's al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri recently said that the overthrow of Morsi is an attempt by the Coptic Church to initiate a "crusader campaign" that would ultimately make Egypt a Christian state. The country currently has a Muslim majority. Following the June 30 Revolution in the country, Muhammad Badie, supreme leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, accused Tawadros by name of supporting the revolution and the toppling of Morsi.
Following these accusations, reports indicated that the black al-Qaeda flag had been raised at several Christian churches in the North African country as Christian congregants hid inside to avoid attacks. Another report by the Associated Press indicated that recently 10,000 Islamists went through the predominately Christian area of Assiut chanting ""Islamic, Islamic, despite the Christians," while others vandalized homes and businesses with spray paint.
Additionally, a Coptic priest was shot dead north of Sinai on July 6 among the spike in protests by armed militants following Morsi's overthrow.
The violence has grown so intense that on Wednesday, 16 human rights groups in the country spoke out, demanding the post-coup authorities regulate the discrimination and violence being inflicted on the Christian minority in the country.
The groups argued that the recent attacks on Christians was a "clear incitement to violence and religious hatred" on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood, and expressed "grave concern regarding the increasing sectarian violence that has targeted Christians and their churches since the June 30 uprising."
On June 30, nearly one year after President Morsi was elected to presidential office, millions of Egyptians flooded the streets of Cairo and elsewhere in the country, demanding Morsi step down from his leadership post. Much of the dissatisfaction with the presiden came from his previous approval of a constitution that many argued was approved fraudulently, while others felt that he had shown preferential treatment to his political party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Islamists while in office.
The Egyptian Armed Forces stated days later that Morsi had stepped down as president, and that the nation's constitution had been suspended. Currently, an interim government has been set up, with chief justice of the constitutional court Adly Mansour now leading the temporary government.
Following the June 30 protests, Pope Tawadros II released a statement supporting the protests and paying tribute to the "three greats of Egypt – the people, the army and the youth."
"It is wonderful to see the Egyptian people taking back their stolen revolution in a peaceful way, through the idea of Rebel and its youth," he said in a statement via Twitter.