Egypt’s streets and various squares were decorated over the past two weeks with banners, lanterns and neon signs to celebrate the arrival of the Pope. They called him the Pope of peace in the land of peace. Official and non-official television channels competed to broadcast Christian hymns and church bells, as well as show the image of the cross during commercial breaks instead of commercials 24 hours a day. This, of course, is in addition to the programmes prepared for this occasion, which the government wanted to milk as much as possible politically on an international level. It is as if Al-Sisi wants to derive his legitimacy through this occasion. This is why he welcomed him with the utmost respect and he was assigned a special group of guards, consisting of 35,000 officers and soldiers from the police and army.
It is strange that the invitation extended to the Pope to visit Egypt was not extended by Al-Sisi, but by the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, who invited the Pope to attend a conference organised by Al-Azhar on peace. The corrupt pro-coup media did not mention this and they did not shed light on this at all. Instead, Al-Sisi stole the visit for himself and exploited it politically in his favour in order to reap the benefits himself. He even dismissed the Sheikh of Al-Azhar from the stage, leaving himself and Pope Francis alone on the stage, behind them a backdrop of churches, used to decorate the stage, while the Sheikh of Al-Azhar sat with the audience in the hall. This was the ultimate insult to the status of the honourable Al-Azhar, which is the Islamic beacon on a global level, and which is represented by its Sheikh, Dr Ahmed El-Tayeb.
I am not concerned with Ahmed El-Tayeb as an individual, but rather what he represents, and therefore, I had hoped that he would have confronted this humiliation, targeting his institution before targeting him as an individual, by withdrawing from the conference. I had wished he had done what he did at President Mohamed Morsi’s inauguration, when they did not seat him in the front row in an attempt by the military, which organised the occasion, to drive a wedge between Al-Azhar and President Morsi. During the inauguration, Dr Ahmed El-Tayeb withdrew immediately. We all applauded his position, as he does not represent himself, but rather the oldest and most prestigious institution in the world. However, he didn’t take the same action with Al-Sisi.
This incident showed everyone, far and wide, the extent of hostility Al-Sisi has for Al-Azhar’s sheikh, and directed the media to attack him, and I will write a separate article to address this. Today, let’s focus on the visit that pushed Egypt to open all is doors, as if Egypt was no longer a Muslim country. A mass was held the next day in the Air Defence stadium, the stadium where 30 young members of the Ultras Zamalek were killed two years ago in a despicable plot by the army to break the Ultras, who chanted that day, “Down with the military rule”. The Junta now wants to retaliate against everyone who participated in the January 25 Revolution.
The stadium was specially prepared for the mass, including an altar, bells, crosses and everything associated with mass. It was prepared to host 120,000 Christians and the mass was broadcast on all of the official and private channels, even the Quran radio station broadcast the Pope’s speech. It is sad that this prohibited the call to the afternoon prayer from being broadcast in mosques near the stadium in order not to disturb worshippers.
This stadium is close to the Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque which witnessed the largest massacre in Egypt’s modern history, and it was completely closed. None of the salafist sheikhs, who were lions during the rule of President Morsi, uttered one word of objection to this extraordinary situation in a country whose constitution states it is a Muslim country. As for the secularist and liberals who protested when a conference in support of Syria was held in the Cairo Stadium when President Morsi had famously called for victory in Syria, and the stadium filled with Muslims, were not frightened by the masses of Christians and priests who filled the Air Defence Stadium, however they were frightened when the stadium filled with Muslims.
The Pope visited the Orthodox Cathedral and was greeted by the church’s Pope Tawadros. They performed a prayer, known as the baptism prayer, and this did not occur during the time of Pope Shenouda, as he did not host Pope John III inside the church, but rather in an administrative building belonging to the church due to the fact that he considered a Catholic apostate. This prayer has a political aspect greater than its religious one, as a secret agreement to annex the Orthodox Church to the European Christian club, which is something they hadn’t been able to achieve in Turkey.
Now the blessed visit ended and so has the party and celebration when Al-Sisi escorted the Pope to the airport. Egypt remains, as it was, a Muslim state, in spite of all the haters who believed, or imagined, that they would be able to use the Pope’s visit as a platform for their attack on Islam in the midst of their fierce war on Islam. “They want to extinguish Allah’s Light with their mouths, but Allah refuses except to perfect His light, although the disbelievers dislike it.” (At-Tawbah, 32)
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.