Egypt's Coptic pope tells Saudi newspaper that Saudi crown prince is 'an open-minded person who has a modern vision to life'
Egypt’s Coptic Pope Tawadros II has praised Mohammed bin Salman and his kingdom’s policies at a time when the Saudi crown prince is coming under huge criticism for his apparent role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In an interview with the Saudi newspaper Arab News, published on Wednesday, the pope described the crown prince as “an open-minded person who has a modern vision to life".
Religious leaders are expected to stand for the high values and appreciate human lives, not to describe a dictator who strongly contributed to the worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen and bombed thousands of civilians indiscriminately as an open-minded person who has a modern vision
- Mina Thabet, coptic scholar
“I personally follow all the positive developments that took place under the directives of King Salman, his crown prince and all Saudi officials, especially since Saudi Arabia is a main pillar of the Arab and the Islamic world, and on the international level as well," Tawadros told the outlet.
Bin Salman, the de facto Saudi ruler and heir to the throne, visited Egypt on 26 November as part of his regional tour which critics have said was aimed at “whitewashing” his image in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder and growing evidence of the prince’s responsibility for it.
Tawadros hailed the visit as “very beneficial to the nation and the kingdom and contributes to human development".
Wednesday’s comments to Arab News are the first public remarks by the pope on Saudi Arabia since the Khashoggi scandal.
Mina Thabet, an Egyptian scholar and Coptic rights researcher, decried the Pope’s remarks as “disgraceful”.
“Religious leaders are expected to stand for the high values and appreciate human lives, not to describe a dictator who strongly contributed to the worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen and bombed thousands of civilians indiscriminately as an open-minded person who has a modern vision,” he told MEE.
During Bin Salman’s first official visit to Egypt last March, Tawadros received him at the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo in what was seen as an unprecedented move to promote a progressive image of himself as part of his economic strategy, called Vision 2030.
Bin Salman reportedly invited Tawadros to visit the kingdom, an invitation he has yet to accept. But the pope told Arab News that the visit will take place “when God wishes".
Pope Tawadros is the latest religious leader in Egypt, joining the leaders of Al-Azhar mosque and the Grand Mufti of Egypt, who have backed President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s military coup against his predecessor Mohamed Morsi.
The religious leaders have since lent their support to Sisi’s policies despite what human rights groups have described as "the worst human rights crisis in the country in decades".