Egypt opens Middle East's largest cathedral, mega-mosque

Egypt's president has inaugurated a new Coptic Orthodox Church cathedral and a mega-mosque on the eve of Coptic Christmas. The move is a symbolic gesture at a time when attacks against the Coptic minority are rising.

Egypt's president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, simultaneously opened a new cathedral for the Coptic Orthodox Church and a massive mosque on Sunday in the country's as-yet-unnamed new administrative capital, a major development located 45 kilometers (28 miles) east of Cairo.

Security was tight as the president inaugurated the Cathedral of the Nativity and the major Al-Fattah Al-Alim mosque on the eve of Coptic Christmas.

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In a brief speech, el-Sissi said the opening of both the cathedral and mosque carried a message of unity.

"We are one and we will remain one," el-Sissi said, referring to Egyptian Christians and Muslims. "This is an important moment in our history."

El-Sissi told those gathered that Egyptian Muslims and Christians will remain united despite sectarian violence

Egypt's top Muslim cleric, Ahmed al-Tayeb, told the congregation that "if Islamic law requires Muslims to protect mosques, it equally requires Muslims to protect churches," referring to an increasing number of attacks on Egypt's Coptic Christian community.

State television broadcast pictures of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit and other foreign dignitaries and officials attending the event.

US President Donald Trump tweeted praise for the simultaneous opening of the church and mosque.

The opening comes a day after a bomb blast near a Coptic church in Cairo's Nasr City district.

El-Sissi held a moment of silence for the police officer killed trying to defuse the explosive that wounded two other police officers and a bystander.

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DW News | 31.07.2018

Fighting discrimination against Copts

Rise in attacks

Coptic Christians, the largest Christian minority in the Middle East, account for 10 percent of Egypt's 100 million people.

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In recent years, Egypt's Coptic Christian community has been increasingly targeted by Islamist militants, including the "Islamic State," which is waging an insurgency in the north of the Sinai Peninsula.

Several hours after the inauguration, followers celebrated midnight Mass in the Cathedral of the Nativity, described by the government as the Middle East's largest church.

Coptic icons adorn the church, which can hold more than 8,000 worshippers, while the Al-Fattah Al-Alim mosque can accommodate more than double that.

It is hoped the new administrative capital, also home to government ministries and an airport, will reduce crowding in Cairo. The administration is expected to start moving to the new location later this year.

Egypt's deadliest terror attacks

1997 Luxor massacre

Sixty-two tourists were killed at Egypt's Deir el-Bahri archaeological site in Luxor. Six assailants, thought to have been linked to al-Qaida, disguised themselves as members of the security forces and descended on the temple armed with automatic machine guns and knives. Egyptian tourist police and military forces eventually stopped the attackers, who were either killed or committed suicide.

Egypt's deadliest terror attacks

2004 Sinai bombings

A series of bomb attacks targeting tourists in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula killed 34 people and injured 171. Most of the casualties were killed after a truck drove into the lobby of the Taba Hilton. Two more bombs went off at campsites some 50 kilometers away, killing a handful of people. Roughly half the casualties were foreigners, including 12 Israelis.

Egypt's deadliest terror attacks

2005 Sharm el-Sheikh attacks

The attack in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh was carried out on Egypt's Revolution Day and for a decade remained the worst Islamist attack in Egypt's history. A series of bombs planted close to bars and restaurants, as well as by a hotel, killed 88 people and injured 150. The majority of victims were locals, although a number of tourists also died, including 11 British nationals.

Egypt's deadliest terror attacks

2006 Dahab bombings

The attack on the the Egyptian resort city of Dahab marked the third consecutive year that tourist resorts had been targeted. A series of blasts in a restaurant, a café and a market killed at least 23 people, most of whom were local, and wounded around 80. Egyptian officials maintain that the attacks were carried out by the Islamist cell known as Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, a forerunner of "IS."

Egypt's deadliest terror attacks

2015 Metrojet Flight 9268 disaster

All 224 mostly Russian passengers were killed when Metrojet Flight 9268 suddenly dropped out of the sky over the Egypt's Sinai peninsula, shortly after having taken off from Sharm el-Sheikh international airport. Authorities agree that it appeared a bomb had been snuck on board. The so-called "Islamic State" jihadi group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Egypt's deadliest terror attacks

2016 Attacks on Egypt's Coptic Christian minorities

While Egypt's Coptic Christians have for decades been targeted by Islamists, deadly attacks on Coptic churches have increased dramatically in recent months. At least 102 Egyptian Christians have been killed in four separate attacks since December 2016.

Egypt's deadliest terror attacks

2017 Coptic church and Al-Rawda mosque bombings

On April 9, 2017, the Coptic church faith followers encountered devastating twin blasts in Tanta and Alexandria as they celebrated Palm Sunday, killing 28 and 17 people respectively. On November 24, 2017, a bomb went off outside of Al-Rawda mosque in the city of Al-Arish in the northern Sinai Peninsula, which claimed the lives of more than 300 people and injured 109 others.

jlw/cmk (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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