Egypt Just Opened Largest Christian Cathedral in Middle East
Image credit: @AFP/Twitter

Egypt’s inauguration of its largest church and mosque is “a message of tolerance to all Egyptians,” experts and citizens have noted.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi inaugurated on Sunday a new cathedral for the Coptic Orthodox Church and one of the region’s largest mosques in the administrative capital at the eve of Coptic Christmas. Sisi gave a brief speech saying the simultaneous opening of the cathedral and the major Al-Fattah Al-Alim mosque nearby carried “a message of unity.” “We are one and we will continue to be one. This moment is very important in our history,” Sisi said. “It was a historic moments symbolizing that the country advocates equality between the Muslim majority and Christians,” said Nourhan el-Sheikh, professor of political science with Cairo University.

Before the inauguration, Sisi observed a moment of silence after Saturday’s explosion in Cairo which killed a Muslim policeman who was trying to defuse the device on a bomb in a nearby church. Coptic Christians, accounting for 10 percent of Egypt’s 100 million people, have also increasingly been targeted in recent years by the Islamic State extremist group, which centered its main attack in northern Sinai Peninsula. More than 100 Copts have been killed in terror attacks since 2016. “If Islamic law requires Muslims to protect mosques, it equally requires Muslims to protect churches,” said Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of the al-Azhar Mosque.

Islam obliges Muslims to safeguard and defend houses of worship, whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish, al-Tayeb added. “The two places of worshipping stand as a symbol in the face of attempts to undermine the country’s stability and sectarian seditions,” el-Sheikh said. Nagawa Tadrus, a Coptic housewife who gathered with her family in Cairo’s renowned Maadi Park, said on Tuesday that she was overwhelmed with happiness when the new cathedral opened at the eve of Christmas. “The opening of the new mighty church mirrored the country’s full support for the Copts,” Tadrus said while insisting to celebrate with her kids in the open air despite the extreme coldness.

Meanwhile, Ahmad Mohamed, owner of a coffee shop in Maadi district, said the people felt very excited and proud while watching the ceremony of inauguration at his shop. “I was beyond moved when witnessing the celebrations, beauty and greatness of the two worshipping places,” he added. U.S. President Donald Trump also praised the opening of the church and the mosque on his Twitter on Sunday. The Cathedral of the Nativity can hold more than 8,000 worshippers, and the Al-Fattah Al-Alim Mosque can hold nearly 17,000. Both are located in the new administrative capital, some 50 km east of Cairo

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