(Some Muslim and Christian "unity" graffiti in Old Coptic Cairo. There are many examples of this on the walls of Cairo since the revolution).
When most westerners hear the Pope has died, they instantly think of an ageing German resident of the Vatican City.
After the initial shock, and when they are put right- the reaction is probably “I did not know there was another Pope...and living in Egypt?” People are genuinely surprised.
This week Egypt has been gripped by, particularly the 10 per cent Christian minority, the passing of Pope Shenouda III.
His official title was the 117th Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Apostolic Seat of Saint Mark the Evangelist of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. He was also the head of The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria.
There have been days of official mourning, scenes of genuine and emotive grieving among Christians, and now talk about the future of the community.
For Pope Shenouda III has been much more than the “spiritual leader of Egypt's Coptic Christians” since 1971- he has also been a political leader.
This political role is understandable, considering that open civil opposition under the previous dictatorial regime was crushed. In such circumstances - a religious figure would always gain more prominence, particularly for a minority community who often feels itself marginalised and discriminated against.
Under President Anwar al-Sadat, Pope Shenouda said the community faced official discrimination. Sadat, angered by this charge of discrimination, put the Pontiff under house arrest!
Shenouda also criticised the peace deal with Israel, and was for his life a vocal defender of Palestinian rights.
Most editorials here have praised him as a great “Egyptian and Arab nationalist”.
However his leadership of the Copts under Hosni Mubarak has been strongly debated.
Close to the former dictator- Shenouda’s strategy for “protecting” his minority community was to court power. This is a similar strategy used by other minority communities under dictatorships in the region.
But the revolution last year saw another strategy for helping to promote the interests of ordinary Christians- this time with Christians fighting alongside Muslims for social justice and an end to discrimination for all.
The image of Christians standing in circles hand in hand, protecting their Muslim comrades in prayer, from security forces attacks, remains one of the most powerful from the 2011 revolution.
Before the revolution writer and activist Alaa Al Aswany wrote about the minority Christian community, and what he penned is interesting. Undoubtedly discriminated against, the author saw pitfalls in the Coptic religious leadership strategy of courting the Mubarak regime. He dismissed claims by the Coptic leadership that they need to support the regime, because it protected the minority community from Muslim extremist attacks.
“Egyptians are all persecuted. Millions of poor people in Egypt are deprived of freedom, justice, dignity, and the right to work, housing and healthcare. It is true that the Copts suffer a double injustice, once as Egyptians and again as Copts, but the legitimate demands of Copts cannot be met separately from the demands of the nation,” he wrote.
The future political direction of the community- as with everything else in post revolution Egypt, is in flux, and will come into sharper focus as we approach the Presidential elections in the summer.
Al Ahram Obit- http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/36988/Egypt/Politics-/Egypts-Coptic-Orthodox-Pope-Shenouda-III-dies.aspx
BBC Obit- http://www.google.ie/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=4&ved=0CEkQFjAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.bbc.co.uk%2Fnews%2Fworld-middle-east-17420084&ei=cJZpT4jpKoOXOpSf8bIK&usg=AFQjCNHD4gmHauQpnGGkAXgYiF5SFIF-RQ