Exclusive: Pope Tawadros II warns against ‘emptying’ Middle East of Christians, sees hope in Saudi reforms

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Pope Tawadros II talks regional politics, status of Copts and his views on reforms in Saudi Arabia. (AN Photo: Ziyad Alarfaj)
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Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas talking with Pope Tawadros II in Cairo. (AN Photo: Ziyad Alarfaj)
Updated 05 December 2018

Exclusive: Pope Tawadros II warns against ‘emptying’ Middle East of Christians, sees hope in Saudi reforms

  • Coptic pope said recent attacks on Copts are an attack on Egyptian unity
  • Tawadros sees hope in the reforms of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and is looking forward to visiting Saudi Arabia

CAIRO: Coptic Pope Tawadros II warned of the danger of emptying the Middle East of Christians, in an exclusive interview with Arab News.

“This emptying act is against nature,” the pope said, adding that recent attacks on Copts and their places of worship are an attack on Egyptian unity.

“Our regions have been established with the existence of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. What happened in some countries like Syria and Iraq is painful.”

Tawadros spoke about the damage inflicted on the Copts in Egypt during the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule from 2012 to 2013. “The migration of Christians in Egypt resulted from the circumstances that took place,” he said. “Christians feared for their lives and fled the country. When the country regained its stability, a lot of them returned to Egypt. Christian emigration rates have dropped significantly.”

Tawadros, who is looking forward to visiting Saudi Arabia soon at the invitation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said he personally follows the “positive developments” taking place there under his reforms. He said the crown prince’s meetings with religious, political and cultural figures around the world encompass “a lot of hope” are “in the interest of Saudi Arabia and contribute to human development.”

Tawadros visited the Vatican in 2013, the first visit of a Coptic pope in 40 years, and his last trip was in July this year. “It is a good relationship based on friendship and love with Pope Francis,” he said.

“There is a dialogue committee between us and the Vatican that meets annually.”

In the interview, conducted in Cairo and published to mark the crown prince’s tour that included other Arab states and Argentina for the G20 Summit, the pope also shared his views of the region.

Tawadros views Palestine as an “occupied country” and said he hopes a “spirit of understanding prevails” between Israelis and Palestinians so that Jerusalem can be a capital for both states “and peace reigns in the region.”

The interview appears in full tomorrow in the print version of Arab News.

Civilians prompt delay in assault on last Daesh enclave: Kurd-led forces

Updated 16 February 2019

Civilians prompt delay in assault on last Daesh enclave: Kurd-led forces

  • The last few hundred Daesh militants, many of them foreigners, had surrendered in the past two days to the Syrian Democratic Forces

OMAR OIL FIELD, Syria: “Large numbers” of civilians remain inside the last Daesh group enclave in Syria prompting a fresh delay in a final advance, Kurdish-led forces said on Saturday.

“There are still civilians inside in large numbers,” US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces spokesman Adnan Afrin said on the day President Donald Trump said he expected to announce the end of the militants’ “caliphate.”

“We weren’t expecting this number, otherwise we wouldn’t have resumed the campaign four days ago. This is why it’s been delayed,” Afrin said.

A second SDF spokesman said that the diehard militants remained in control of the tiny enclave around the village of Baghouz on the north bank of the Euphrates river.

“The pocket inside Baghouz is still controlled by the Daesh group,” spokesman Mustefa Bali said.

“There are still civilians inside Baghouz and we are working on getting them out.”

Neither spokesman would comment on the timeline set by Trump for a US announcement that the “caliphate” had been eradicated.

“We have a lot of great announcements having to do with Syria and our success with the eradication of the caliphate and that will be announced over the next 24 hours,” Trump told reporters at around 1600 GMT on Thursday.