Egypt’s Sisi visits Coptic pope before Easter

Egypt's former military chief visited the Coptic pope ahead of Orthodox Easter

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Egypt's former military chief and presumed presidential front-runner visited the Coptic pope Saturday ahead of Orthodox Easter, making his first public appearance since he formally made his bid for the presidency.

Pope Tawadros II is a strong backer of retired Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who removed the country's first democratically elected president last summer after a wave of popular protests.

Tawadros backed the military's overthrow of Islamist Mohammed Mursi and appeared alongside Sisi with Muslim leaders and secular politicians after his ouster. Following Mursi’s removal, rioters burned and vandalized churches and government buildings in the country.

Orthodox Easter is Sunday and Sisi’s visit to the pope’s seat of power at St. Mark’s Cathedral is a tribute to the country’s Christians, some 10 percent of Egypt's population. Mursi never visited the Cathedral, instead sending a representative last year. Some radical Islamists had argued even against greeting Christians during their holidays.

According to a statement, Sisi told Pope Tawadros that Christians and Muslims will remain united.

Riding a wave of widespread support for the military after Mursi’s ouster, Sisi is widely expected to win the coming May 26-27 presidential election. There is little opposition to the former military chief, who retired before declaring his bid as Egyptian law bans soldiers from running.

Official campaigning is due to start May 2, when officials announce a final list of candidates.

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