John L. Allen Jr.: Francis faces a high-wire act in Egypt, and not just on Islam

(Crux) From the outside, the defining high-wire act Pope Francis would seem to face on his April 28-29 outing to Egypt is the Christian/Muslim relationship. Observers will expect him to strike the right balance between praising Islam as a religion of peace, while also pressing Islamic leaders to confront the cancer of extremism and terrorism in their midst.

Pasquale Ferrara, the Italian ambassador in Tunisia and author of The World of Francis: Bergoglio and International Politics, says the trip has “enormous” symbolic value, especially because of the pontiff’s visit to Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque and University.

“For most of the Arab and Islamic world, Al-Azhar is a point of reference, including for doctrinal matters,” Ferrara said. “To show the Catholic pope visiting the most authoritative center of Sunni Islamic theology is extremely important, because often Christianity is perceived in these countries as the religious face of economic neo-liberalism.”

Pope Francis, Ferrara said, represents “the true counter-narrative to violent extremism, repeatedly affirming that the religions are part of the solution and not part of the problem.”

Yet seen from within Egypt itself, there’s another front upon which people are anxious to see how Francis will thread the needle: The proper Christian attitude towards President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and, more broadly, the military-political complex that’s ruled Egypt almost uninterruptedly since the 1950s.

(When Egyptians today refer to “the regime,” they’re not talking just about Sisi, but about the whole series of military-backed governments since Gamal Abdel Nasser took power in 1956.) [More]