CAIRO: Egypt is following up contact with British authorities to protest over the incident at Heathrow airport which saw the Coptic Church’s Pope Shenouda III subjected to a security search, which Egypt took as an insult.
The Foreign Ministry released a strongly worded statement displaying “Egypt s extreme resentment at the incident and asking for a justification to this unacceptable act which elicited an angry reaction from Egyptian public opinion. The ministry sent a letter of complaint to the British embassy in Cairo demanding an explanation for the incident, adding that this was at the direct request of Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.
According to the ministry’s spokesman, “the British ambassador [Dominic Asquith] asserted to Egyptian officials that he was awaiting his government s report on the circumstances of the incident and requested a meeting with his Holiness the Pope to apologize for what happened.
The spokesman added that the Egyptian embassy in London received a letter from the Protocol Department of the British Foreign Office indicating their deep regret over the incident and their insistence that no offence was intended towards the Pope.
The letter however stressed the “insistence of the British side to implement security measures at Heathrow with the measures it deems necessary in light of the terrorist threats against Britain, with no exception s for any religious authorities or prominent or key figures passing [through] the airport.
Security officials at London’s Heathrow airport stopped Pope Shenouda III on his way back to Cairo last week requesting he undergo a search much to the consternation of his travelling party as well as the Egyptian ambassador to the UK who was seeing him off, press reports said.
According to reports in the Egyptian press, Pope Shenouda and his contingent were entering the VIP area of Heathrow on March 30 when they were stopped at the door by British security officers who demanded that the party be searched, including the Pope himself.
Shenouda was in Britain to attend the opening of a new Coptic Orthodox cathedral in Stevenage in North London.
A conversation ensued between the officers and escorts of the Pope who felt it was inappropriate that he be subjected to such procedures. The officers responded to the effect that they had no orders to exclude anyone from the security measures instituted in the VIP area.
While the discussions were taking place, Shenouda waited in a car outside the VIP area, but as the departure time of his flight came closer he emerged from the car and indicated he was willing to undergo the security checks.
As such the Pope passed through the metal detector but he was not subjected to a body search.
The Foreign Ministry spokesman stated that Egypt would continue to follow up with the relevant British authorities on this matter “so that the Egyptian side would receive the appropriate compensation for this regrettable incident to ensure that it would not be repeated in the future.
Local newspaper Rose Al-Yussef called for a nationwide boycott of Heathrow in protest of the treatment of Shenouda.
The paper also reported that Pope Shenouda had been asked about the incident and had reportedly said, “They searched me but did not search for their sins, adding that the Pope was embarrassed about the incident.
Muslim figures were also displeased with what happened to the Pope considering it an affront to all religious figures, the newspaper stated.