"Forget violence, foreign to our heritage," say Coptic and Muslim leaders
by Jihad Issa

In a joint statement, the Grand Muftì of Egypt and Pope Shenouda III condemned Saturday's violence outside the Church of St George. Dialogue and understanding are the "weapons to defeat division and rancour".

Alexandria (AsiaNews) – There is "sadness and suffering" for what happened outside the Church of St George "especially during the month of Ramadan, dedicated to prayer, forgiveness and tolerance".

Pope Shenouda III, the spiritual leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt, and Mouhammad Sahid El Tantawi, Grand Muftì of Egypt, have issued a joint statement addressed to Muslims and Christians, in which they "condemn the latest incidents" and exhort the faithful to "forget the language of violence, which does not form part of Christian and Muslim heritage".

The two religious leaders addressed their appeal to the communities involved in the incidents, urging them to "aim for dialogue and mutual listening", without allowing "any occasion for evil, which would create division and rancour". The reference appears to point to the "Muslim Brotherhood", the organisation of Islamic fundamentalists accused of fomenting the latest incidents, perhaps in view of the upcoming administration election in Egypt.

In a press conference, Souleiman Awad, spokesman for the Egyptian presidency, communicated President Hosni Mubarak's "feelings of unease" and called for a "rediscovery of common values linking Muslims to their Coptic co-nationals, which make up Egypt's social fabric."

The Coptic Christian community makes up 10% of the largely Muslim (89%) population of 72 million. Christians lament discrimination in public positions and employment. They also complain of difficulty in obtaining permits for the construction of churches, and they fear of violence if and when a Muslim should convert to Christianity. There have also been accusations of forced conversion to Islam.