“A dear visitor, a unique personality, and a high-level religious and spiritual leader.” Those were the opening words of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s speech welcoming Pope Francis on Friday.
Al-Sisi received the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church at the Itihadeya presidential palace. The pope was on an official visit to Egypt on 28 and 29 April. This comes as he insisted to proceed with the scheduled visit despite terror attacks that hit two Egyptian churches on Palm Sunday, killing at least 46.
“Egyptian Christians are an inseparable part of the nation. The state is committed to treating all nationals equally on grounds of citizenship and constitutional and legal rights,” Al-Sisi stressed, adding that “the state is further reinforcing the culture of equality and patriotism in face of extremism.”
On one hand, a terror attack killing at least 27 people had taken place on 11 December 2016 on a major church in Cairo. Terror attacks were claimed by the so-called Islamic State. On the other hand, incidents of sectarian strife continue to take place against Egyptian Christians across governorates with little legal accountability.
But Al-Sisi noted that those behind such violence and hatred, using religion as a pretext to kill innocent people, are not following the rules of Islam, which promotes tolerance, mercy, and respect of the other, including everybody’s right to choose their own religion and belief.
While Al-Sisi renewed his calls for “international united efforts to cut sources of terrorism funding, fighters, and arms,” he appreciated Pope Francis’ visit, along with the carried message of peace among “difficult global conditions.”
Moreover, Al-Sisi said he “admired noble stances undertaken by Pope Francis in favour of human values, hope, unity, and virtue.”
“Your visit is historic and confirms our common belief in the values of the Abrahamic religions, which oppose violence and destruction among human beings, as the world witnesses a wave of hatred, violence, terrorism, and unprecedented challenges for all humanity that affect us all,” Al-Sisi said, addressing the pope.
On a further note, the president praised Pope Francis’ efforts in renewing communication channels with Egypt’s Muslim institutions, namely Al-Azhar, opining that the move comes in accordance with his wishes to renew religious discourse to fight extremism.
The pope’s visit to Egypt also marks 70 years since the beginning of exchange of diplomatic relations between the two countries on 23 May 1947. Al-Sisi visited Vatican City in November 2014. Earlier in 2013, Pope Tawadros II met Pope Francis in the Vatican.
For his part, Pope Francis stated that “Egypt has a unique role to play in the Middle East and among those countries seeking solutions to pressing and complex problems that need to be faced now in order to avoid the spread of worse violence.”