NEW ADMINISTRATIVE CAPITAL, Egypt — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday praised Egypt’s religious freedoms as he visited a vast cathedral and a mosque in the country’s new capital east of Cairo.
Washington’s top diplomat, who describes himself as an evangelical Christian, is on a tour aimed at reassuring regional US allies after Washington’s shock decision to withdraw US troops from Syria.
On Thursday evening he visited the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ and the Al-Fattah Al-Alim mosque in Egypt’s New Administrative Capital, 45 kilometers (28 miles) east of the capital.
At the mosque, he praised Egypt’s “freedoms here in this houses of worship, these big, beautiful, gorgeous buildings where the Lord is clearly at work.”
The two buildings were inaugurated by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Sunday, a day after a deadly bomb blast near a church in the country where jihadists have repeatedly targeted Christians.
“This is a special country where President Sissi clearly made a point by putting this, this largest cathedral in the Middle East here in this place,” Pompeo said, calling the building “a great symbol of hope.”
The cathedral’s inauguration was hailed by US President Donald Trump, who wrote on Twitter that he was “excited to see our friends in Egypt opening the biggest Cathedral in the Middle East.”
“Sissi is moving his country to a more inclusive future,” Trump said.
Sissi, a former army chief who led the military in ousting Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, is accused of leading a relentless crackdown on both pro-democracy campaigners and Islamists.
Coptic Christians, who account for around 10 percent of Egypt’s population, have been hit by a string of sometimes deadly attacks by the Islamic State group in recent years.
They have long complained of official discrimination.
Asked about the role of governments towards religious minorities, Pompeo said they had “an obligation to make sure that every individual can choose to worship the way they want or choose.”
“It’s wonderful that here in Egypt it’s possible,” he said.