Pope Francis trip to Egypt would be the occasion to make a stand in defense of persecuted Christians

Egypt‘s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has announced a three-month state of emergency after attacks on two Coptic churches that left at least 44 dead. The measure allows authorities to make arrests without warrants and search people’s homes. It needs to be approved by parliament before it is implemented.

So-called Islamic State (IS) said it was behind the blasts in Tanta and Alexandria on Palm Sunday, BBC reports.

Pope Francis condemned a deadly blast at a church in Egypt and said at a Palm Sunday Mass that the world was suffering from wars, terrorism and “interests that are armed and ready to strike“.

Pope Francis will visit Egypt on 28 and 29 April. The Vatican said the pope was going also upon invitations from Catholic bishops in Egypt, Coptic Orthodox church leader Pope Tawadros II and the grand imam of the Al-Azhar mosque, Sheik Ahmed el-Tayyib.

Most of Egypt’s Christians are members of the Orthodox church led by Pope Tawadros II. Christians overall are believed to account for about 10 percent of the country’s 92 million people.

Christians often complain of discrimination, citing their apparent exclusion from top positions in the security services, academia and the diplomatic service, as TIME reports.

In the last month, hundreds of members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority have fled the Sinai Peninsula to Ismailia city, 115km northeast of the capital Cairo, following a series of killings by a local ISIS armed group.

An Egyptian Christian was burned alive by ISIS in northeastern Sinai, according to an Egyptian security source who specified that the alleged ISIS jihadists used a firearm to kill another Coptic Christian.

While in December 25 Christians were killed in a deadly attack against St Mark’s Cathedral, the main Coptic Christian church in Egypt.

Egypt trip gives Francis a chance to stand with suffering Christians,” writes Vatican analyst John J. Allen. “If Pope Francis does indeed go to Egypt to visit Al-Azhar, he may need to make sure that any detente with the Sunni Muslim center includes clear insistence that the country’s Christian minority must be protected. Otherwise, local Christians may see the visit as providing cover for their persecution,” he says.