Egypt Interim President Visits Coptic Pope; Rare Meeting Could Lead to New Attacks on Christians?

Egypt's interim president, Adly Mansour, paid a historic visit to Coptic pope Tawadros II on Sunday, the first such meeting in 40 years. While the meeting was aimed at reassuring Christians that the new government will be better than the Muslim Brotherhood, a watchdog group has warned that it remains to be seen whether this move will benefit Christians, or if it will lead to new attacks instead.

"This visit could be seen as a positive or negative. Of course, under former Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, Christians were even more singled out and persecuted," Open Doors USA Media Relations Director Jerry Dykstra told The Christian Post in an email on Monday.

The watchdog group has closely monitored the attacks Christians in Egypt suffered this past year following the fall of Morsi, when Islamist groups attacked and burned down Christian churches, schools, orphanages and bookstores. Open Doors even asked for emergency support of $430,000 in August following news that followers of Christ were also being murdered.

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Over the past year, the Muslim Brotherhood has not only lost power in Egypt, but its former leaders have even been declared "terrorists" by the government, which accused them of a number of illegal attacks that caused the deaths of civilians, in December.

"This is a turning point in the confrontation. This is an important tool for the government to close any door in the face of the Brotherhood's return to political life," noted Khalil al-Anani, a Washington-based expert on the movement.

Mansour's visit on Sunday at Cairo's St. Mark's Cathedral was the first since socialist leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser attended a consecration ceremony over 40 years ago, The Associated Press noted, and is intended to show a "dramatic departure" from the way Morsi and the Brotherhood ran the country.

Just days before his ousting in July, Morsi is said to have complained that church leaders visited him with "insincere smiles," and criticized them for being "unnecessarily afraid" of Islamist rule. Morsi's allies also blamed Christians for taking part in the growing street protests that eventually led to the overthrow of Morsi's administration.

"The visit will send a signal that things are very different from Morsi's days," offered Egypt expert Michael W. Hanna of the New York-based Century Foundation. "It's a different style and is likely to have a positive impact on the Copts."

But Dykstra was more cautious, warning that the Muslim Brotherhood could view Mansour's visit to Tawadros II as the Coptic church "endorsing the military-back government and this could lead to another increase in attacks on Christians and Christian churches," similar to what went on in August.

The Open Doors media director stressed that Egypt's Christians, who make up 10 percent of the African country's 90 million population, are in need of prayer in these uncertain times.

Egypt it set for an important nationwide vote this month that will determine whether the next parliament will have to legislate a specific law that ensures the construction and upkeep of churches. It is seen as a move to ensure equality between all Egyptians and further stabilize the government.

Dykstra told CP that Egypt's future is still unclear, but the coming referendum will be crucial.

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