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“We want the state to deal with Christians as citizens and for the Church to step aside,” she said. “Christians are increasingly dealt with just as a sect.”

Shenouda had one significant clash with the government, in 1981 when he accused then-President Anwar Sadat of failing to rein in Islamic militants. Sadat said Shenouda was fomenting sectarianism and sent him into internal exile in the desert monastery of Wadi Natrun, north of Cairo. Sadat was assassinated later that year by militants. Mubarak ended Shenouda’s exile in 1985.

The incident illustrated the bind of Egypt’s Christians. When they press too hard for more influence, some Muslims accuse them of causing sectarian splits. Many Copts saw Mubarak as their best protection against Islamic fundamentalists — but at the same time, his government often made concessions to conservative Muslims.

After Mubarak’s fall, ultraconservative Salafis grew older and more vocal, accusing Christians of seeking to convert Muslim women or even take over the country. Several churches were attacked by mobs. Christian anger was further stoked when troops harshly put down a Christian protest in Cairo, killing 27 people.

In an unprecedented move aimed at showing unity, leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood along with top generals from the ruling military joined Shenouda for services for Orthodox Christmas in January at the Cairo cathedral.

“For the first time in the history of the cathedral, it is packed with all types of Islamist leaders in Egypt,” Shenouda told the gathering. “They all agree … on the stability of this country and on loving it, working for it and working with the Copts as one hand for Egypt’s sake.”

During the first post-Mubarak parliament elections late last year, the Church discreetly urged followers to back a liberal, secular-minded political bloc, an unusual political intervention aimed at balancing religious parties. Nevertheless, the Muslim Brotherhood won nearly half the seats in parliament and now dominate the political scene. Salafis won another fifth of the seats.

The Brotherhood’s political party offered its condolences “to the Egyptian people and its Christian brothers.”

Parliament speaker Saad el-Katatny, a Brotherhood member, praised the pope in an evening session, calling him a “man respected among Coptic Christians and Muslims” for his love of Egypt and his opposition to Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem. Under a long-standing order, Shenouda barred his followers from pilgrimage to Jerusalem as a protest of Israel’s hold on the city.

Under Church law, the process of choosing Shenouda’s successor can take up to three months, though an interim leader will be picked within a week. A synod of archbishops, bishops and lay leaders will then form a committee to come up with three candidates. The names are then put in a box and a blindfolded acolyte picks one — a step meant to be guided by the will of God.

Two leading contenders are close associates of Shenouda. Archbishop Bishoy, head of the Holy Congregation, the main clerical leadership body, is seen as the more conservative figure; Archbishop Johannes, the pope’s secretary, is younger — in his 50s — and seen as having a wider appeal among youth.

Shenouda was born Nazeer Gayed on Aug. 3, 1923, in the southern city of Assiut. After entering the priesthood, he became an activist in the Sunday School movement, which was launched to revive Christian religious education.

At the age of 31, Gayed became a monk, taking the name Antonious El-Syriani and spending six years in the monastery of St. Anthony. After the death of Pope Cyrilos VI, he was elected to the papacy in 1971 and took the name Shenouda.

During the 1990s, Islamic militants launched a campaign of violence, centered in southern Egypt, targeting foreign tourists, police and Christians until they were put down by a heavy crackdown. Muslim-Christian violence has flared repeatedly in the past decade, mainly in towns of the south and in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria. Sometimes it was sparked by local disputes that took a sectarian tone, sometimes by disputes over the building of churches. The most startling attack came on New Year’s 2011, when suicide bombers attacked an Alexandria church, killing 21 worshippers.

At the same time, Christian emigration has increased tremendously. Coptic immigrants in the United States, Canada, and Australia number an estimated 1.5 million, according to the pope’s official Web site.

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