By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife)– Egypt’s Coptic Pope Shenouda III, who led Copts for over four decades through often heightened tensions, has died at the of off 88, leaving behing a troubled community.
His political adviser Hany Aziz said in published remarks that Shenouda “died from complications in health and from old age” earlier Saturday, March 17.
The spiritual leader of the Middle East’s largest Christian community reportedly suffered of liver and lung ailments.
Shenouda was consecrated as pope of Alexandria in 1971. He led Egypt’s Copts, who make up about 10 percent of the country’s population of 80 million.
In 1981, then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat exiled Shenouda to a desert monastery after he accused the government of failing to take action against Muslim extremists.
Former President Hosni Mubarak ended his exile in 1985.
Later, Shenouda was confronted with heightened tensions. Islamic hardliners carried out a string of attacks against Christian churches, including the January 2011 bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria that killed 23 people.
There is concern among Christians that whoever succeeds him now faces the task of reassuring the Coptic community as the Islamists look on the verge of sharing power in Egypt for the first time.
There are especially worries about the rise of the hard-line Salafist Muslims of the Nour Party, who have become the second largest political force in the country.
Anticipating a strong presence in the new Egyptian parliament, they have outlined plans for a strict brand of religious law, that critics say could limit personal freedoms and steer a key U.S. ally toward an Islamic state.
Hardline Salafis espouse a strict form of Islam similar to that practiced in Saudi Arabia, where security forces are known to have raided underground church groups.
Additionally, news has emerged that the influential highest official of religious law in Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah has said all churches in the Middle East must be destroyed.
Salafis, who often wear long beards and seek to imitate the life of the Prophet Muhammad, speak openly about their aim of turning Egypt into a state where personal freedoms, including freedom of speech, women’s dress and art, are constrained by Islamic law.
The Muslim Brotherhood is another party that has been criticized for its perceived Islamic tone.
Amid the political turmoil, anti-Christian attacks have continued, including earlier this month when up to 1,500 Muslims reportedly threatened to torch a guesthouse in upper Egypt where nuns were staying, Christians said.