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CAIRO: President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi inaugurated Egypt’s largest church and mosque in the New Administrative Capital on Sunday, the eve of Coptic Christmas, in a symbolic message of tolerance in the predominantly Muslim nation.

Copts, the largest Christian minority in the Middle East, were due to hold a midnight mass in the Cathedral of the Nativity, billed by the government as the Middle East’s largest church, a few hours after the inauguration. Coptic Christians make up an estimated 10 per cent of Egypt’s nearly 100 million people and have long complained of discrimination under laws that favour Muslims.

Foreign dignitaries and officials including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Arab League Chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit flanked Sisi at the opening, state television showed.

Angham, a prominent local singer, sang for Muslim-Christian coexistence as a display of fireworks lit the skies over the two houses of worship.

“On this day we see you have fulfilled this promise and here we are witnessing a great opening on this grand occasion,” the head of the Coptic church Pope Tawadros II said.

US President Donald Trump also praised the opening of the church and the mosque.

“Excited to see our friends in Egypt opening the biggest Cathedral in the Middle East. President Al-Sisi is moving his country to a more inclusive future,” Trump tweeted on Sunday.

The Cathedral of the Nativity, adorned with Coptic icons, can accommodate more than 8,000 worshippers while the al-Fattah al-Aleem Mosque can hold nearly double the number. Both are located in the new administrative capital, a major development located some 45 km east of Cairo.

Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2019