Egyptian Coptic boy Bishoy Gerges is carried after he
picked a piece of paper containing the name of the 118th
leader of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox church, in Cairo.
REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Egypt's Coptic Orthodox church have chosen a new pope,
Tawadros II, in a sumptuous service and Christians hope he will
lead them through an Islamist-dominated landscape and protect
what is the Middle East's biggest Christian community.
Christians, who make up about a tenth of Egypt's 83 million
population, worry about political gains made by Islamists
since Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year. Radical Islamists
have been blamed for attacks on churches several times since,
but Copts have long complained of discrimination in
In a ritual steeped in tradition and filled with prayer,
chants and incense at Abbasiya cathedral in Cairo, the names
of three papal candidates chosen in an earlier vote were
placed in a wax-sealed bowl before a blindfolded boy picked
out one name.
Copts, who trace their church's origins to before the birth
of Islam in the 7th century, believe this long-established
selection process ensured worldly influences did not
determine the successor to Pope Shenouda III, who led the
church for four decades until his death in March at the age
"Pope Tawadros II is the 118th (leader of the church),
blessed congratulations to you," said the interim Pope
Bakhomious, who was dressed in gold-embroidered robes.
As he held the name aloft, the congregation in the packed
cathedral applauded. The formal ceremony to install Bishop
Tawadros, 60, as pope will take place on Nov. 18, a priest
Pope Shenouda was criticised by some Christians for being too
close to Mubarak. Church analysts say he was partly prompted
to take a strong advocacy role in Mubarak's era because many
Christians withdrew from public life, complaining of
discrimination, leaving the pope their main defender.
"Pope Tawadros faces different rules of the political game,"
said Youssef Sidhom, editor of the Coptic newspaper Watani.
"Copts are now encouraged, and even encouraged by the church,
to get out and participate in the political arena."
The new pope, bishop of a region in the Nile Delta north of
Cairo, was shown on television praying at Pope Shenouda's
tomb in a desert monastery in Wadi el-Natrun surrounded by
Bearded, bespectacled and in black priestly robes, Tawadros
thanked God, praised his predecessor and said: "I carry love
to all our brothers in Egypt," in comments broadcast on
Church experts said Tawadros, trained as a pharmacist before
becoming a priest, had strong communication skills and called
for peaceful co-existence in Egyptian society.
Coptic activist Peter el-Naggar welcomed the choice, adding:
"He is not the kind of man who would compromise our rights."
Marina Nabil, 20, said amid the applause after the ceremony
that lasted several hours: "I am so happy. I have had
dealings with Bishop Tawadros before and he is a very wise
and calm man."
Muslim leaders and politicians offered congratulations and
voiced hopes he would foster greater national unity.
In a ballot last week the candidates had been whittled down
to the three. Voters included leading members of the church,
public figures and a handful of representatives of the
Ethiopian church, which has historic links to the church in
The other two candidates for the papal post were Bishop
Rafael, a 54-year-old who qualified as a doctor before
entering the priesthood, and Father Rafael Afamena, a
70-year-old monk who studied law before taking on holy
Echoing worries of many Copts, shopkeeper Michael George
said: "Christians fear the Islamists' rule especially because
their presence is encouraging radicals to act freely."
Since Mubarak was ousted, Christians have complained of
several attacks on churches by radical Islamists, incidents
that have sharpened longstanding Christian complaints about
being sidelined in the workplace and in law.
As an example, they point to rules that make it harder to
obtain official permission to build a church than a mosque.
Sectarian tensions have often flared into violence,
particularly in rural areas where rivalries between clans or
families sometimes add to friction. Romantic relations
between Muslims and Christians are regularly to blame for
The Muslim Brotherhood, the mainstream Islamist movement from
which President Mohamed Mursi emerged to win power via free
elections, has sworn to guard the rights of Christians.
Mursi congratulated the pope and the head of his Freedom and
Justice Party, Saad al-Katatni, said on his Facebook page he
was "optimistic about fruitful cooperation with (the pope) as
spiritual leader of Coptic brethren."
Christianity spread into Egypt in the early years of the
faith, several centuries before Islam emerged from the
Arabian Peninsula and then swept across North Africa and
The Coptic Orthodox church is the biggest in Egypt, although
there is also a much smaller Coptic Catholic church, as well
as other small groups affiliated to churches abroad.