Egypt's El-Sisi to open new mega mosque and cathedral on Sunday

The openings come against a backdrop of sectarian attacks across the country

A picture taken on January 3, 2019, shows a general view of the newly-built al-Fattah al-Alim mosque in Egypt's new administrative capital, 45kms east of Cairo.  / AFP / Mohamed el-Shahed
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Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is scheduled to inaugurate the country's largest mosque and a new cathedral in the country's new administrative capital outside of Cairo on Sunday.

The Al Fattah Al Alem Mosque was built on a 59 acre site and is believed to be among the largest in the world.

The Cathedral of the Nativity will be open in time for Coptic Christmas on January 7. Mr El-Sisi is expected to attend Christmas Eve mass alongside Pope Tawadros II at the church, which Egypt claims will be the largest in the Middle East, with room for 8,200 congregants.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and several other foreign leaders were expected to attend the opening ceremonies, Egypt’s Chief of the Armed Forces’ Engineering Authority Kamel Al Waziri told local media on Thursday.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who arrived in Cairo on Friday on a three-day visit, is also expected attend the inauguration.

The new religious centres are cornerstone constructions of Egypt’s new administrative capital, a mega-project announced by Mr El-Sisi in March 2015, which is being built in the desert 45 kilometres east of Cairo.

A worker is seen at the interior of the new Cathedral "The Nativity of Christ" before Sunday's Coptic Christmas Eve Mass in the New Administrative Capital (NAC) east of Cairo, Egypt January 3, 2019. Picture taken  January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
A worker inside the new Cathedral 'The Nativity of Christ' ahead of Sunday's Coptic Christmas Eve Mass in the New Administrative Capital, Egypt January 3, 2019. Reuters

The openings come against a backdrop of persistent attacks against security forces, Coptic Christians, tourists and civilians by Islamic militants across the north African nation. Security forces have struggled contained a low-level insurgency in the Sinai, with sporadic attacks targeting the capital, provincial centres, tourist areas and Christian religious sites.

In December, two Coptic Christians were shot dead by a Muslim church security guard following an argument in the governorate of Minya.

Last year, attacks in Alexandria and Tanta targeted Coptic churches on Palm Sunday, killing 47 and injuring more than 120. It was the latest in a series of church bombings that have killed over 100 Egyptian Christians since December 2016.

Coptic Christians make up about 10 per cent of Egypt’s 90 million population.

After an explosion killed three tourists and their Egyptian guide last month, Mr El-Sisi ordered the creation of a committee to tackle "sectarian incidents".

The bomb attack, on a tourist bus near the Giza Pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo, also wounded 11 people. After the incident, Egypt’s Interior Ministry claimed Egyptian security forces had killed 40 militants in three operations in Giza governorate and in the restive North Sinai.


Read more:

Sinai offensive helping reduce Egypt attacks but Copts still targeted

Tourist bus attack hits Egypt at a critical time

Egypt's ancient Coptic community rattled by bishop murder saga


Since the military overthrew former president and Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi in a popular coup in 2013, former military chief El-Sisi has overseen one of the largest crackdowns on dissent in the country's modern history.

After being elected president in 2014, Mr El-Sisi won a second four-year term last year following an unopposed campaign. But tight control of the media, draconian restrictions on right groups, and an ongoing campaign of arrests mean freedoms gained by a 2011 uprising against long standing autocrat Hosni Mubarak have been reversed.

In an interview released by CBS over the weekend, Mr El-Sisi denied there are political prisoners in Egypt however. In the interview, the president questioned a recent Human Rights Watch report claiming that Egypt had detained 60,000 political prisoners.

"I don't know where they got that figure. I said there are no political prisoners in Egypt. Whenever there is a minority trying to impose their extremist ideology we have to intervene regardless of their numbers," he told CBS.

Mr El-Sisi has in the past claimed that everyone in detention is facing legal proceedings for a specific crime, but rights activists complain of long detentions without charges – as long as two years or more in some cases – trials that don't observe the letter or the spirit of the law, and judges more concerned with "protecting the state" than enforcing the law.