President Mohamed Mursi will not attend the installation ceremony of the new Coptic pope, the church said on Friday, to the dismay of Christians who fear being sidelined in the new Islamist-led Egypt.
Pope Tawadros II, will be installed at Cairo's Abbasiya Cathedral on Sunday in a ceremony attended by Christian leaders from several countries as well as Egyptian public figures.
A church source told Reuters: "We don't know why Mursi will not attend but it is a major event and nothing should stand in the way of him attending ... Christians always had a strong feeling that he does not want to come."
Pope Tawadros II and Mursi's office were not immediately available for comment. A presidential source said there had been no government announcement regarding Mursi's plans.
Mursi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, has repeatedly said he is the president of all Egyptians but Christians cite recent cases of religious intimidation by radical Islamists, such as a raid earlier this month on a party to promote interfaith harmony, as a sign of things to come.
Coptic rights activist and lawyer Peter el-Naggar said: "President Mursi's decision not to attend comes as a surrender to pressures that some (ultra-orthodox Islamist) Salafi groups and others put on him."
"The presidency has previously announced that the president will attend if he got invited, and he was invited," he said.
Egypt's Coptic minority is the Middle East's largest Christian community. Pope Tawadros II told Reuters earlier this month that a constitution being drafted by Egypt's politicians must be inclusive and that the church would oppose any text that only addressed one part of the Muslim-majority nation.
Representatives of Egypt's churches agreed on Thursday to withdraw from the assembly writing the constitution in protest at some clauses in the draft, the state news agency MENA reported. They will make a final decision on withdrawing pending consultation with Pope Tawadros, MENA said.