A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Coptic Pope Shenouda's Absence Becomes an Issue: Politics or Health?

A couple of weeks back,  on May 22, the Coptic Pope, Shenouda III, went to the Cleveland Clinic for his regular  checkup; the Pope has acknowledged back problems, is rumored to have kidney problems, and at 87 (he'll be 88 in August) is someone whose health is not only of concern to his flock, but to Egyptians generally at a time of sectarian tension. His succession is likely to be a thorny and disputed issue. (Relevant previous posts can be found here.)

Rumors have been floated that the Pope's visit to the US was extended because he was deliberately absenting himself in the wake of recent anti-Coptic violence in Egypt as a protest; the Church's Holy Synod has strongly denied this, but their explanation that his medical tests are taking longer than expected raises separate questions: was something unexpected found? Field Marshal Tantawi sent his own solicitations, though rather recently, so there may in fact be health issues here.

At the  moment, given the sectarian tensions in this transitional period and the fact that one of the most prominent potential successors, Bishop Bishoi of Damietta (see the links above) is anathema to many Muslims, many Egyptian Muslims might want to join with their Christian fellow countrymen in praying for the aging Pope's health, at least until things stabilize a bit.

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