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Death of Coptic Pope Shenouda III leaves millions of worshippers around the country without a spiritual leader

ICC Note:

“The death of Pope Shenouda III, who led Egypt’s Coptic Christian Church for 40 years, has increased fears among Copts that they will face persecution and discrimination as Islamic parties become more powerful,” The Independent reports.

By Patrick Cockburn

3/19/2012 Egypt (The Independent) – The death of Pope Shenouda III, who led Egypt’s Coptic Christian Church for 40 years, has increased fears among Copts that they will face persecution and discrimination as Islamic parties become more powerful.

Hundreds of thousands of mourners, many crying, packed the streets around St Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo yesterday as they waited to file past the body of Pope Shenouda, dressed in ceremonial robes and sitting in the papal chair. Ashraf, 26, a blacksmith, said as he stood beside the outer wall of the cathedral that “the very existence of Shenouda made us feel protected”.

A tired-looking woman, who would not give her name, was sitting on the pavement holding a child. She said: “I wish I could get in to see the body. I feel worse that our protector has gone. God knows what is going to happen.”

Egypt’s Copts, estimated to number 10 to 12 million, complain that they are treated as second-class citizens and denied top jobs. They had hoped that the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak last year would reduce discrimination, but now fear their condition may worsen as the Muslim Brotherhood and the fundamentalist Salafi movement, which together have 70 per cent of the seats in the newly elected parliament, gain greater influence.

Pope Shenouda, 88, was famous as a cautious Coptic leader, all-powerful within his community, who for four decades had dealt with the Egyptian government. Born in Assiut, in upper Egypt, he was careful to give support to President Mubarak. He was briefly stripped of his temporal powers by President Anwar Sadat in 1981, for accusing the government of being tolerant of extreme Islam.

His successor, to be chosen by a synod of bishops, is unlikely to exercise the same authority in defence of Egypt’s embattled Christian minority. The bishops will choose three candidates, whose names are written on pieces of paper and placed in a box. The final choice is made by a blindfolded boy, who picks one of the names.

There have been a series of violent attacks on Copts and their churches in the past year. In fighting between Copts and Muslims in the central Cairo slum of Imbaba in May, 15 people were killed, 242 injured and the Virgin Church was burned out. A demonstration by Copts in October saw 27 killed, many of them by a security vehicle driven at full tilt into the crowd.

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