Egypt's New Coptic Pope Enthroned in President Morsi's Absence

Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church installed its new pope at a ceremony Sunday. Top officials, including Prime Minister Hesham Kandil, attended the event, but President Mohammed Morsi from Muslim Brotherhood did not amid concerns that his government would marginalize Christians.

Pope Tawadros II was installed at the three-hour ceremony at Abbasiya Cathedral in Cairo in the presence of Egyptian public figures and Christian leaders from several countries.

The 60-year-old pope stressed that he has big responsibilities toward all Egyptians, Copts and Muslims, hoping God would help him succeed in his new mission, according to Egypt State Information Service.

"Pope Tawadros is a candid, honest man; throughout the ceremony, he was in tears," Hanan Fikry, a Coptic columnist and activist, said, according to The Los Angeles Times. "This shows he's genuine, and I hope he will prove to be a good leader for all of us."

Tawadros was installed roughly eight months after the death of Pope Shenouda III, who led the church for 40 years. The new pope is close to the former interim pope, Bishop Pachomius.

Pachomious on Saturday officially withdrew the church from the 100-member constituent assembly of Egypt, tasked with drafting the nation's new constitution. "Acting Pope Pachomious was still in charge this morning," said Fikry. "He wanted to withdraw from the assembly to make sure the church's stand was known and that officials knew the Coptic Church would not allow such a narrow-minded constitution to be drafted with its name on it."

"The constituent assembly is acting as if nobody else exists in society. Its formation itself is faulty, it is bias and dominated by only one segment of Egyptian society," said Fikry, referring to the Islamist political factions within the constitutional assembly.

Moris' decision not to attend the installation ceremony has deepened Christians' fear that they would be sidelined by the Islamist government.

"President Morsi's decision not to attend comes as a surrender to pressures that some Salafi groups and others put on him," Al Arabiya quoted Coptic rights activist and lawyer Peter el-Naggar as saying. "The presidency has previously announced that the president will attend if he got invited, and he was invited."

Reuters had earlier quoted a Coptic source as saying, "We don't know why Morsi will not attend but it is a major event and nothing should stand in the way of him attending ... Christians always had a strong feeling that he does not want to come."

Earlier this month, the pope expressed concerns over the nation's security situation, which has forced many Egyptians – both Muslims and Christians – to leave the country.

Christians have faced numerous attacks after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak last year following an uprising. Mubarak, an authoritarian leader, kept Islamists under tight control, and apparently had good relations with Pope Shenouda.

About 10 percent of the 80 million people in Egypt are Christians, mostly Copts.

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