Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Father Abraham conducts the orthodox Christmas service at the St. AnthonyÕs Cathedral on January 6, 2018. (Khushnum Bhandari/ The National)
Father Abraham conducts the orthodox Christmas service at the St. Anthony's Cathedral in Abu Dhabi. (Khushnum Bhandari/ The National)

Thousands gather to celebrate Coptic Christmas service in Abu Dhabi



More than 3,000 worshippers attended the Christmas service at St Anthony’s Orthodox Cathedral for Coptic Egyptians in Abu Dhabi. They prayed for tolerance and peace on earth.

Copts observe Christmas on January 7, as do most Orthodox churches.

“Our Christmas message is Jesus Christ’s message to all the world, to all the humanity over all the world,” said Father Abram Farouk, one of the cathedral's two priests, before the service. “Jesus Christ was born just to give us light, to give us peace, to give us his soul.”

Government officials, including the Minister of Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak and the Egyptian ambassador Wael Gad, attended the service. It is estimated that 25,000 to 30,000 Egyptian Christian Copts live in the UAE.

For men like Ashaia Haroun, the tolerance of the UAE compared to the violence seen elsewhere regionally has made the Emirates a second home.

“I was talking to the chief of the Islamic Foundation and he said that we learn from our sheikhs and we saw that our sheikhs they are open-minded,” said Mr Haroun, a Cathedral committee member. “They know that if God wanted to make the whole world one religion, he could. God can. But if God allows differences in religion and faith, who are we to oppose God?”

Batroos Wajeh Atea, 26, and Corolis Samweer, 31, took a two-hour bus journey from Madinat Zayed to attend the service on Saturday.

The men, who work in interior design, will spend Christmas Day today in the office but will stay with friends in Abu Dhabi overnight.

“At Christmas in Egypt people die. It is always like that,” Mr Atea. He said his church in Egypt was often closed because of violence.

A gunman killed two Copts in Giza, Egypt on New Year's Day. Nine people were murdered on December 29 when another gunman attacked people at a household appliance shop and attempted to storm a Coptic church in Helwan, south of Cairo.

More than 100 Christians were killed in Egypt in 2016, according to the BBC.

“As Christians, we are dealing with the people as men of God,” Father Farouk said. "So all creations, all the people anywhere, if they are attacked, it is an attack on us. We pray for all the world. Peace for all the world, peace for Egypt, for Emirates, for all the world.”

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Christmas is a time of celebration, but those who lost their lives in attacks this year were also remembered during Saturday’s service.

“We have people who lost their brother, their father, their uncle. It is really very painful,” said Mr Haroun.

“There is no religion in the world that tells you to kill a person that God created. We pray. This is the only way we know. We thank God that he put us in a place in UAE, a place which is safe and a place which is really taking care of us.”

Mr Haroun celebrates his 40th anniversary in the UAE this week. That same year, the first Coptic priest arrived to serve Abu Dhabi, although a church would not be built for another seven years.

“Once we had a church, the people started multiplying,” recalls Mr Haroun.

A new church opened in April 2007, funded in part by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed on land donated by the government.

Last year, Christian churches were given the right to grant marriages, mediate and grant divorce and handle child custody and inheritance for non-Muslims as part of law reforms by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs.

The cathedral complex was busy all weekend in preparations for Christmas Eve.

Iman Ibrahim, a Canadian who works at the American International School, was at the church on Friday, wrapping presents for her family.

“For us, Christmas simply means that Jesus was born into our hearts and into our lives.”

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Investors: Various institutional investors and notable angel investors (500 MENA, Shurooq, Mada, Seedstar, Tricap)

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Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

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The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

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