Middle East

Egyptian media surprise as Coptic Pope visits Jerusalem

Egyptian newspaper Ahram Massay’s article on the Pope (lower right) is headlined, ‘Pope’s visit to Jerusalem renews the controversy of normalisation’ Image copyright Ahram Massay’
Image caption Egyptian newspaper Ahram Massay’s article on the Coptic Pope (lower right) is headlined, ‘Pope’s visit to Jerusalem renews the controversy of normalisation’

Egyptian media reaction to Coptic Pope Tawadros II's trip to Jerusalem is overwhelmingly negative.

The press and social media widely see it as a breach of a ban announced by Tawadros' predecessor Pope Shenouda III on visiting the city in protest at Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem.

Some Coptic voices in the media endorse Pope Tawadros's explanation for the trip, namely that it is not an official visit but rather to attend the funeral of an Egyptian-born Coptic archbishop, but surprise and anger are the predominant tone in the press and social media.

'Crack in boycott'

Egyptian private papers in the main criticise the visit as a crack in the Coptic boycott, and Al-Shuruq says Pope Tawadros had "surprised" Egyptians by travelling to Jerusalem.

Image copyright Al Masry
Image caption Al Masry Al Youm newspaper’s front page features the Coptic Pope, with the headline ‘Crack in the Israel boycott wall'

Writing in Al-Yawm al-Sabi, pundit Abdel Fattah Abdel Mun'im also registers surprise, asking why Pope Tawadros "diverges from the teachings of his mentor?"

Al Masry Al Youm newspaper dubs the visit a "crack in the Israel boycott wall".

'Shame'

Several Twitter users see Pope Tawadros as a pawn in an alleged attempt by President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi to further normalise relations with Israel.

Popular hashtags include #Pope_Tawadros, #party_on_Tawadros and #Jerusalem_curses_the_Pope, garnering more than 1,000 uses.

International lawyer Mahmud Rifat sees the visit as a "shame that will haunt him and later generations" .

Image copyright AP
Image caption The Pope (seen here in a file photo) is in Jerusalem to attend a funeral

The Freedom and Justice Party of the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement demands that the Coptic Church should "apologise immediately".

Comments range from critical to excoriating. One, from @bant_alaslam accuses the Church of being a "dagger used by the Zionists against Muslim and Christian holy places" in Jerusalem.

Al-Shuruq newspaper says Copts are "split between anger and welcome" over the visit, and gives voice to Coptic opinions ranging from support to respectful criticism.

Coptic writer Kamal Ghubrial says Pope Tawadros has a political role to play in breaking what he calls the "obsession of Arabist dervishes" who oppose the normalisation of relations with Israel, and endorses the Jerusalem visit as a step in that direction.

Coptic writer Sulayman Shafiq on the other hand considers the visit "unwise" and a "violation of previous clerical traditions and decisions".

The Copts United website hosts several reactions by Coptic figures, with political commentator Michel Fahmi warmly supporting the visit as "historic".

Like Mr Ghubrial, he sees "no wisdom in the boycott decision".

'Stoking controversy'

The story was little covered elsewhere.

Pan-Arab satellite TV channels did not report it in their morning bulletins, it did not make the Middle Eastern Arab press outside Egypt, and only a few Israeli news titles reported the visit before the row erupted.

In the Palestinian media, only the Filastin Online website of the Islamist Hamas movement registers the visit to "occupied Jerusalem", saying rival Fatah faction leader and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had "encouraged it" on an visit to Cairo earlier this month.

The Palestinian-focused London paper Al-Quds al-Arabi leads on the story, saying it has stirred up "controversy".

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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