01/07/2013, 00.00
EGYPT
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Morsi extends Christmas greetings to Tawadros II

Christmas celebration began last night across the country with security forces deployed around St Mark Cathedral in Cairo and Saints Church in Alexandria. For Patriarch Tawadros II, Copts are proud to be part of a country that includes Christians and Muslims. President Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie dismiss Salafist rejection of Christmas greetings to Christians.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - "The Coptic Church is part of Egypt. The country has been united since the times of Pharaoh Menes and will remain so forever. No one will be able to divide it," said Patriarch Tawadros II during Coptic Orthodox Christmas Mass last night in Cairo's St Mark Cathedral. Thousands attended the service, including Rifaa El-Tahtawi, who represented President Mohammed Morsi, and various opposition figures like Amr Moussa, former Arab League secretary who was defeated in last year's presidential election.

By sending a presidential representative, the country's radical Islamic establishment is sending a signal of détente after several Salafi leaders issued fatwas in recent weeks against Muslims who extend Christmas greetings to Copts. For the former, such Muslims are traitors and apostates.

However, such rulings have split the country. Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed al Tayeb rejected them. Indeed, the head of the most important Sunni university sent his greetings to the Coptic community, expressing his personal closeness to the Christian minority.

For their part, President Mohammed Morsi and Mohamed Badie, head of the Muslim Brotherhood, yesterday expressed their wishes of Merry Christmas to Patriarch Tawadros II and the Coptic community.

The president personally phoned the head of the Coptic Church, and congratulated the Christian minority. He also wished them a prosperous New Year.

Such signs of détente come after months of tensions and fears caused by the coming to power of the Muslim Brotherhood and the adoption of a constitution that enshrines Sharia as a source of law, binding Christians to Islamic law.

"We pray for this beloved country," Shenouda III's successor said in his homily. "We love this country's land and Nile and are proud that we are part of it."

With such words, the patriarch is refuting those Islamists, but also some Copts, who would like to see Egypt divided along confessional lines.

In an interview with MBC TV, an Indian broadcaster, Tawadros II reiterated that the Church is not into politics. Still, he urged Copts to work with Muslims to build a new Egypt.

Across Egypt, Orthodox Coptic Christmas celebrations have been taking place throughout the day without any incidents.

A security perimeter manned by the military was set up around St Mark Cathedral in Cairo and Saints Church in Alexandria, scene of a bomb attack on 31 December 2011 that killed 24 people.

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