A glorious day of national unity. This is what Egypt experienced yesterday with the inauguration, in the new administrative capital, of the largest mosque in the country and of the biggest Christian Basilica in the Middle East dedicated to Christ’s Nativity. It is the first time in the history of Egypt that two worship places – a Christian place and a Muslim place – are inaugurated on the same day. Both ceremonies were attended by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Egypt’s president first entered Al-Fattah Al-Alim Mosque, accompanied by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas; Al-Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayyeb; and the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Tawadros II.
“This is a day of joy as we see our beloved country write a new page in the history of civilisation”, Pope Tawadros II said in his address at the mosque’s inauguration. “Today we celebrate an unprecedented occasion where the minarets of Al-Fattah Al-Alim Mosque are embracing those of the Nativity of the Christ Cathedral, opening a new horizon for our beloved country on this happy occasion, achieved through the Egyptian people’s donations and efforts with sincerity and love”. “As an Egyptian citizen – he added -, I am happy to stand in the mosque to celebrate its opening with my Muslim brothers”.
The Coptic cathedral is an impressive building that can accommodate up to 8,200 faithful while the mosque can accommodate up to 17,000 worshippers. They were both built in what will become Egypt’s administrative capital (in 2022), east of Cairo, between the Nile River and the Suez Canal. This grandiose project was strongly advocated by President al-Sisi also with a view to addressing the overcrowding of the current Egyptian capital, which is home to approximately 19 million people. “We pray for our unity to continue – the Coptic Pope concluded – as the world witnesses such tolerance and love in our country. God bless you all, long live Egypt”. The Coptic Orthodox community, however, is still exposed to danger. Indeed, it was only two days ago that a bomb was found at a church in an eastern Cairo suburb and a police officer died while attempting to defuse it. Hence this year, too, the Coptic Church, the largest Christian community in the Middle East, has celebrated its Christmas last night with reinforced security measures to prevent other attacks.