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Egypt's Coptic Pope To Fight Political Apathy

Cairo (AKI) -- Pope Shenouda III, the pope of the Coptic Christian community in Egypt, has decided to form a committee to "shake the community of believers out of their political apathy" according to the pan-Arab daily al-Sharq al-Awsat, which says a first meeting will be held next Monday. As well as Shenouda himself, the new body will include senior representatives of the Coptic church - bishops and archbishops. "The scope is to stimulate the involvement of Copts in political life and in this way endorse equal rights and the freedom of religion guaranteed by the constitution," said a church source.

The same pope has presented a request to President Hosni Mubarak and the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to standardise the provisions regarding the building of churches and mosques on Egyptian soil. "Such a move would remove the disparity of treatment between citizens," said church sources.

In recent weeks there has been a flare-up in sectarian violence. The clashes in Bham, 20 kilometres south of Cairo, broke out following enlargement work on the local church. A total 59 people were arrested, most of them Muslim, and various homes and offices were destroyed or burned.

The Coptic community in Egypt represents some 10 percent of the population, which is predominantly Sunni Muslim, and it has to request permission for building churches. This is not required for Muslim communities wishing to build a mosque.

Copts were the majority in Egypt during the conquest of the country by Muslim forces in the 7th century but during the successive centuries of Arab rule their numerical weight dwindled to a minority


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