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Egypt Ends Banishment of Coptic Pope

January 1, 1985 GMT

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ The Egyptian government announced Tuesday that Coptic Pope Shenouda III, patriarch of Egypt’s largest Christian community, would be allowed to resume his duties and leave the desert monastery to which he was banished in 1981.

The late President Anwar Sadat had accused Shenouda of fomenting unrest and stripped him of his official recognition.

A statement distributed by Egypt’s Middle East News Agency said President Hosni Mubarak had issued a decree allowing Shenouda to ″resume his papal duties as of today (Tuesday).″

The statement gave no details. But government sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the decree in effect restores full state recognition of the controversial Shenouda, reversing Sadat’s decree.

They said Shenouda, 62, the 117th patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, would probably leave Wadi Natrun monastery, 70 miles northwest of Cairo, and return to the capital in the next few days.

Church sources said Shenouda was scheduled to lead midnight Mass at Cairo’s St. Mark’s Cathedral on Jan. 6, the eve of the Coptic Christmas.

Egypt has 6 million Copts and there are Copts in the United States, Canada, Australia, East Africa and South Asia.The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the oldest in Christendom, tracing its origins to St. Mark, author of the Gospel, who tradition says came to Egypt in the first century and established a congregation in Alexandria.

Weeks before Sadat himself was slain by Moslem zealots, he accused Shenouda of fomenting Moslem-Christian strife and in September 1981 stripped him of state recognition of his office and banished him to Wadi Natrun.

Shenouda, named pope in 1971, was an outspoken champion of the rights of Egyptian Christians in a country where 90 percent of the population is Moslem.

By stripping Shenouda of state recognition, Sadat deprived him of his right to deal with the government on legal and other official matters, in effect preventing him from exercising any secular responsibilities.

The banishment was part of a crackdown on Sadat’s religious and political opponents. More than 1,500 were jailed, but were later released by Mubarak.

Sadat established a five-man committee of Copts to administer church affairs in Shenouda’s absence. Mubarak dissolved the committee in 1982.

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Church and government sources had said Mubarak would wait until after the trial of 300 Moslem extremists before restoring Shenouda’s recognition. The Moslems were accused of trying to overthrow the government after Sadat was killed in October 1981. The trial ended Sept. 30, with more than half the defendants acquitted.