Just as Pope Francis was holding a mass for 25,000 Coptic Christians in a Cairo stadium this weekend, around 30 Muslim schoolgirls arrived at the Coptic Museum in the old centre of the capital. They took photographs of each other and selfies against the facade of the museum. For the front wall of this magnificent building was constructed by Marcus Simaika Pasha in 1910 to resemble the facade of a mosque. This was a quite deliberate decision by Simaika: his idea was to illustrate in stone how intertwined are Egypt’s Christians and Muslims, not only in religion but in culture.
But that was then. It was, of course, the Pope’s message this weekend, along with that of the Sheikh of al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayeb. Their message of peace was broadcast around the world. Their far more striking remarks – in almost identical words – about the evils of arms manufacturers who sell their products to the Middle East, was predictably ignored. Journalists understandably went for the most obvious story: both Muslim and Christian leaders condemned (no name mentioned, of course) the Isis ‘Caliphate’ – which Pope Francis excoriated in the memorable phrase “the incendiary logic of evil” – and the attacks on Christian churches by the Egyptian variety of the Isis cult. Yet the problems of Egypt’s Christians go rather deeper than this.