Egypt’S Coptic Pope Banished

NOTE: This issue went to press just as news of President Anwar Sadat’s murder became known.

The crackdown by Egypt’s canny President Anwar Sadat on “religious extremists”—both Muslim and Christian—had the appearance of a wise and neutral father impartially settling a family dispute. But on closer inspection, the arbiter, who ordered 1,536 religious and political activists detained and seven periodicals closed down early in September, looked to be neither disinterested nor evenhanded.

The handful of evangelicals apprehended included two leaders in the Brethren assemblies and an elder in a Cairo Evangelical Coptic Church who had been evangelistically active. Two dozen assertive Coptic Orthodox leaders were detained, including Father Zacharia (CT, July 21, 1978, p. 50). The Coptic Orthodox patriarch, Pope Shenouda III, was banished to a monastery in Egypt’s western desert, and the government decree recognizing his authority to speak on behalf of Egypt’s six million or more Copts rescinded. In his place, Sadat named a caretaker council of five prominent bishops.

But the overwhelming majority of those confined were Muslims aligned with the radical right-wing Muslim Brotherhood, the only visible opposition to Sadat’s rule, which was declared illegal during Nasser’s rule. Sadat outlawed or disbanded at least 13 Islamic fundamentalist societies. Those rounded up included virtually every vocal critic of Sadat’s peace initiative with Israel.

A summer filled with Muslim-Coptic violence set the stage for Sadat’s drastic move. A violent June attack on Christian homes and businesses in a northern suburb of Cairo occurred after extremist Muslims attempted to occupy land set apart for the building of a new church. ...

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