President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi received the UK’s Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, Sunday at the Presidential Palace in Heliopolis. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit comes as part of the religious leader’s ‘visit of condolence’ to Egypt following the killings of Egyptian Christians earlier this year.
According to presidential spokesperson Alaa Youssef, Archbishop Justin Welby started the meeting by offering condolences for the deaths of Egyptians by terror attacks, in particular the 20 Coptic Christian Egyptians who were killed in Libya.
In February, a video emerged appearing to show a militant group in Libya affiliating with Islamic State beheading 21 Christians, believed to include 20 Egyptian Copts. In response to the killings, Egypt immediately launched airstrikes in retaliation.
In the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Easter message, he called on those living in peaceful countries to give more support to persecuted Christians in the Middle East and Africa, mentioning the 148 victims at Garissa University in Kenya this month.
Welby also met religious leaders in Cairo Sunday. The Archbishop met the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayb and gave a letter of condolence from the family of David Haines, killed by Islamic State, to the Coptic Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, according to a BBC correspondent in attendance.
President Al-Sisi thanked Archbishop Welby for his condolences, but also expressed that in Egypt Christians are not a minority and have the equal rights of all Egyptian citizens. Al-Sisi praised the Egyptian church’s role and stressed the importance of many cultures in enriching human life.
Archbishop Welby also praised Al-Sisi’s call for a renewal of religious discourse within Islam to address the misconceptions and violence that has spread in recent times, spokesperson Youssef continued, to which the President highlighted the role of Al-Azhar as a beacon of moderate Islam.
However, President Al-Sisi also expressed that a number of factors combine together to produce terrorism and extremist ideology, including poverty and negative religious thought, as well as ignorance of other cultures. To this end, Al-Sisi said it was important to provide opportunities for young Egyptians to study abroad in Western universities to take advantage of educational facilities and to broaden their understanding of different cultures.