Coptic Christian Pope follows Muslim lead in canceling meeting citing move of embassy in Israel
[CAIRO] The Egyptian leg of Vice President Mike Pence’s upcoming Middle East visit is now in jeopardy after Coptic leader Pope Twadros II announced Saturday that he could not meet with American officials in light of the decision by the United States to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“The Coptic Orthodox Church apologizes to Vice President Mike Pence for the necessity of canceling his scheduled meeting with Pope Twadros,” said church spokesman Father Bolis Halim. “Now is not a suitable time for such an audience because of the hurt feelings of millions of people in Egypt and the region.”
The visit to Cairo by Vice President Pence had been positioned as an American initiative to put a global spotlight on the vulnerable situation of the region’s Christians, but President Donald Trump’s move to underscore Israeli claims of sovereignty in Jerusalem have put the Coptic clergy here under pressure in relation to their Muslim colleagues.
On Thursday, Al-Azhar’s [foremost Sunni institution] Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayyeb announced he would not be meeting Mr. Pence in light of the American plan to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem.
“The American President and his administration should bear full responsibility for inciting hatred in the hearts of Muslims and the hearts of all advocates of peace in the world,” Al-Tayyeb said. “How can I sit with those who promise what they do not own to those who do not deserve?”
Since Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took power, Al Azhar has made strides to promulgate a moderate vision of Islam –rejecting religious extremism and the terrorism espoused by jihadi groups.
But the American Embassy decision has drawn fierce and militant indignation from clerics at the traditional center of Sunni Muslim scholarship and theology.
“This is a terrorist decision on par with the recent attack on the Al Rawda mosque,” declared Abbas Shouman, Al Azhar’s wakil [deputy preacher] in his Friday sermon, referring to the November massacre by ISIS that took the lives of over 300 worshippers in the North Sinai.
“The Jews have no right to any part of Jerusalem, which is Arab and Islamic– and the promise of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was not to the Jews because those prophets were Muslims.”
Shouman asserted that with Trump’s embassy decision last Wednesday, US and Israeli policies became impossible to tell apart.
“An American embassy in Jerusalem is like a Jewish settlement on occupied territory,” he told Friday worshipers in a nationally televised sermon.
Until Saturday, Pence’s Cairo advance team still expected their boss to be to meeting Pope Twadros and President Al-Sisi, but outrage over the American administration’s embassy decision looks to put the entire trip in peril.
“Trump has lost all credibility as peace broker,” Ahmed Noubi, former press attaché for the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, told The Media Line. “Regional leaders and the Arab street are both outraged and it’s increasingly difficult to envision positive diplomatic outcomes,” he said as the wave of rage sweeping the Arab and Islamic world over the US decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem washed into Egypt.
Al-Sisi had hoped to play a key mediator role alongside President Trump who had declared his intention to put together “The Deal of the Century” for the Middle East in meetings and phone conversations with Arab leaders early in his term.
“The American decision will have very negative consequences on the peace process, which was based upon considering Jerusalem as a final settlement case that would be resolved through negotiations,” said Egypt’s permanent representative to the United Nations Ambassador Amr Aboulatta at a special Security Council meeting held late Friday.
For the first time since Sisi’s 2013 accession to power, authorities here demonstrated a reluctance to invoke strong anti-protest laws as thousands poured into the streets of Cairo and Alexandria in opposition to Trump’s embassy announcement.
Dozens of armored cars and police busses full of personnel clad in riot-gear have deployed in Tahrir Square and blocked roads leading to the American Embassy and the headquarters of the Arab League.
That force was still on display Saturday evening as the league prepared to convene a late night session to condemn Trump’s historic decision on Jerusalem.
Arab foreign ministers are expected to announce measures to “defend occupied Jerusalem and its legal, historical and religious status” according to the organization’s spokesman Mahmoud Afifi.
The heavy police presence failed to deter the thousands of demonstrators who turned out over the weekend to support Palestinian claims to Jerusalem.
Angry worshipers filled the squares and streets of Cairo’s medieval Islamic Quarter after noon prayers Friday.
Protestors in Alexandria burned Israeli flags outside the Al-Qaed Ibrahim mosque in the city center intoning the chant that “Jerusalem is Arab” and “In spirit and blood, we will redeem Palestine.”
Demonstrations continued to shout anti-American and anti-Israeli slogans Saturday on the campus of Alexandria University – Egypt’s second largest public higher learning institution.
“All those who care about human rights in the world should support the defenseless Palestinian people in the face of murder, displacement, and the falsification of facts,” twenty-four-year-old Nour Khalil, a graduate of Al Azhar University law school and a researcher on refugee affairs told The Media Line.
The US Embassy decision has emboldened Egypt’s Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment [BDS] movement with pro-Palestinian activists now joined by The Cinema Professions Syndicate in a call to extend their Israel boycott to American consumer products including movies.
“When it comes to the rights of the Palestinian people, Egypt and the Egyptians have much to offer,” said Khalil. “There are always alternatives to all products, and the boycott is a legitimate form of resistance and peaceful expression of our anger.”
Meanwhile Russian president Vladimir Putin arrives in Egypt on Monday to discuss expanding political, economic, and security ties.
Last week Moscow approved a draft agreement with Egypt on the use of Russian military aircraft at Egyptian military bases.