Somber celebration of the 50th anniversary of Egyptian cathedral

The 200 icons inside the church are a major attractions for tourists and history students. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 20 November 2018

Somber celebration of the 50th anniversary of Egyptian cathedral

  • The windows will tell stories of the martyrs of Alexandria, Tanta and other regions

CAIRO: Egypt celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Cathedral of St. Mark in Abbasia, Cairo, with a mass prayer headed by Pope Tawadros II.
However, the mood was somber because Egypt’s Copts are still grieving over the attack on them in Upper Egypt on Nov. 2, in which seven people died and more than 20 others were injured.
“Fifty years ago was a historic and proud day in this cathedral and in Egypt as we celebrated the opening of this cathedral in the presence of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Pope Cyril VI (the 116th Pope in the history of the Church) and Emperor Haile Selassie,” said the pope in a sermon. “The emperor of Ethiopia opened this cathedral in 1968 and named it St. Mark after the foundation stone was laid in 1965. It was the largest cathedral in the Middle East.
“Today, we share with the bishops, priests, ladies and children of Sunday schools, a day of joy and celebration.
“Four years ago, we started the architectural development and renovation of the cathedral. Hundreds of engineers, technicians, workers and a large number of companies participated and did a great job. It would have been great to have a celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of the cathedral and to honor the renovation workers, but the circumstances have not allowed it. However, I thank them.”
The pope pointed out that in the church there are about 200 icons (a painting that tells a story), adding that “the icons in the spiritual sense are windows on the sky, each inviting us to heaven.
“The windows will tell stories of the martyrs of Alexandria, Tanta and other regions. There will be an icon to let the community know of his Holiness Pope Kyrolos VI and there will be many others. We will issue a detailed book on all icons.”
The event was broadcast by many media outlets. Director Rida Shawqi said in an exclusive interview with Arab News that Egyptian television used all the facilities and capabilities to convey the celebration of the inauguration of the Cathedral of St. Mark, including 18 cameras which were inside the cathedral as well as drones and the national TV cameras.
According to scholar of Coptic studies Majid Kamel, the architects of the cathedral were engineers Awad Kamel, former dean of the faculty of fine arts at Cairo University, and Salim Kamel Fahmi. They were awarded the job after winning a drawing and design competition that was announced by the patriarchate, and chosen by the committee as the best project among 35 architectural offices. The project was completed in three years. He added that “construction works involved 700 technical workers, 300 builders and 1,000 construction workers. Construction costs amounted to about 350,000 Egyptian pounds ($19,490) — a lot in 1968. Owing to the high cost, the Egyptian Patriarchate launched a fundraising campaign to complete the works. President Abdel Nasser donated 150,000 Egyptian pounds from the national fund to help completion.
A small booklet distributed to attendees of the event explained that the cathedral building is 144 meters long, about 61 meters wide, and has one dome and two lamps, which is in the Egyptian architectural style. It also said that this was the headquarters of the Pope of Alexandria from its inception until now, following the old headquarters in the Church of Alexandria in Azbekiya (central Cairo).
The patriarchal church, adjacent to the cathedral, was attacked on Dec. 11, 2016, killing 29 people and wounding 31. In addition to severe damage to the Church of the Patriarchs, some of the buildings surrounding the cathedral were also damaged. Daesh claimed responsibility for the incident.


Turkish, Iranian media outlets exchange blows on Syria

A Syrian woman carrying a child walks by, in the Washukanni Camp for the internally displaced, near the predominantly Kurdish city of Hasakeh in northeastern Syria, on February 17, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 58 min 43 sec ago

Turkish, Iranian media outlets exchange blows on Syria

  • Middle East expert believes Ankara and Tehran are locked in an information war

ANKARA: Turkish and Iranian media outlets are battling as deeply rooted tensions have resurfaced. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency has published an opinion piece that critically discussed tensions with Iran over Syria. It said: “Turkey’s vision of regional development and integration is pitched against Iran’s regional strategy prioritising geopolitical wins.
“Ignoring Ankara’s concerns in the fight against terrorism during Operation Peace Spring, Tehran is now setting its Shiite militias in the field in motion against Turkey, who is actively endeavoring to prevent a humanitarian crisis.”
The analysis piece, titled “Idlib front, Iran’s weakening foreign operation capacity,” was penned by Hadi Khodabandeh Loui, a researcher at the Iran Research Center in Ankara.
Throughout Syria’s civil war, Turkey has backed rebels looking to oust Bashar Assad, while Iran has supported the Assad regime. However, the two countries are collaborating to reach a political solution to the conflict.
An editorial piece that was published in Iran’s hardline newspaper Entekhab compared Turkey’s military moves in Syria to Israel’s bombings of pro-Assad forces. The piece warned Ankara about a potential aggressive reaction from Tehran to both threats.
Israeli warplanes fired missiles at targets near Syria’s capital, Damascus, in early February and they hit Syrian Army and Iran-backed militia positions, reportedly killing 23 people.
Being among the guarantor states of the Astana peace process for Syria, aimed at ending the Syrian conflict, Turkey and Iran have already witnessed the fragility of their relations in October 2019 when Iran criticized Turkey’s moves to establish military posts inside Syria, emphasizing the need to respect the integrity of Syria.
Then, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan quickly accused Iran of betraying the consensus between the two countries following Tehran’s condemnation of Turkey’s operation in northern Syria against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.

BACKGROUND

Throughout Syria’s civil war, Turkey has backed rebels looking to oust Bashar Assad, while Iran has supported the Assad regime. However, the two countries are collaborating to reach a political solution to the conflict.

In March 2018, Iran’s Tehran Times defined Turkey’s cross-border military operation against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin as an “invasion.” It splashed with a headline that read: “Turkish troops occupy Syria’s Afrin.”
Over recent weeks, Ankara has voiced criticisms that the Assad regime, Iran-backed militia and Russia have violated the ceasefire in Syria’s rebel-held province of Idlib, with frequent attacks targeting Turkish troops.
Samuel Ramani, a Middle East analyst at the University of Oxford, thinks that Assad’s forces are winning decisively, and Turkey’s ability to resist them is greatly diminished.
“Assad’s forces have consolidated their control over west Aleppo, and are steadily advancing in Idlib. Turkey does not view the Iranian mediation offers in Syria as credible, especially as Iranian media outlets are justifying them by claiming that Turkey broke the terms of the Sochi agreement by harboring extremists. Turkey is insistent that Russia violated Sochi by supporting Assad’s offensive,” he told Arab News.
Regarding the media conflict, Ramani thinks that Turkey and Iran are locked in an information war over Syria, and are both trying to paint the other as an aggressor.
“It’s a way to rally public support in both countries around more confrontational posturing, in the event of a bigger military escalation that actually sees Turkish and Iranian forces in direct combat, not just Assad and Turkish proxies,” he said.