Muslim Egyptian President in groundbreaking visit to Christian church

Egypt's president has become the first of the country's leaders ever to attend a Coptic Christian mass.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi addressed the congregation at St Mark's Cathedral in Cairo next to Coptic Pope Tawadros II, January 6, 2015.Reuters

In a fresh sign of his commitment to tackling religious intolerance, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi visited St Mark's Cathedral in Cairo on the Coptic Christmas Eve.

The Mada Masr website reported that Al-Sisi told the congregation: "It was necessary for me to come here to wish you a Merry Christmas, and I hope I haven't disturbed your prayers.

"Throughout the years, Egypt taught the world civilization and humanity, and the world expects a lot from Egypt during the current circumstances.

"It's important for the world to see this scene, which reflects true Egyptian unity, and to confirm that we're all Egyptians, first and foremost.
"We truly love each other without discrimination, because this is the Egyptian truth."

He spoke while standing next to Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and the highest Coptic authority in Egypt. Pope Tawadros called the visit "a pleasant surprise and a humanitarian gesture". He added: "We feel that our Egypt is entering a new era with new thoughts and spirit. We are building it together for the future of our children, and to place Egypt in a suitable position among the world's countries."

The visit on Tuesday night came after gunmen shot dead two policemen as they stood guard at a church in Minya, 220 kilometres south of Cairo. Christians have been targeted by Muslim extremists following the coup that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammed Morsi last year, as they are blamed for supporting it.

President Al-Sisi has called for a "religious revolution" to tackle extremism. In a speech at the prestigious Al Azhar University this week, he told scholars that violent Islamist ideology, was "antagonising the whole world". He added: "Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world's inhabitants — that is 7 billion — so that they themselves may live? Impossible!

"I am saying these words here at Al Azhar, before this assembly of scholars and ulema — Allah Almighty be witness to your truth on Judgment Day concerning that which I'm talking about now.

"All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.

"I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move... because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost — and it is being lost by our own hands."