Pope strip-search row: CEN 4.25.08 p 6. April 24, 2008Posted by geoconger in British Foreign Policy, Church of England Newspaper, Coptic Orthodox.
Security staffers at London’s Heathrow airport have sparked a diplomatic row between Britain and Egypt, after they ordered the Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church to undergo a body search before boarding his flight home to Egypt.
Pope Shenouda III was visiting Britain to consecrate St. George’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Stevenage, Hertfordshire and to pay a pastoral call on the country’s Copts. While preparing to board his flight home to Egypt on March 30, British Airport Authority staffers at Heathrow ordered him to submit to a body search when he entered the VIP lounge.
Egypt’s Ambassador to Britain, who had accompanied Shenouda to the airport, protested saying Shenouda held an Egyptian diplomatic passport. Citing a new Home Office policy that permitted snap searches of all travelers, save for heads of state, the BAA staffers insisted on frisking the 84-year head of Egypt’s 7.5 million Copts.
Following a standoff, a supervisor agreed to forgo the search, provided Shenouda passed through a metal detector.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry responded to the incident by issuing a diplomatic note to British Ambassador Dominic Asquith, saying it would order body searches of the Archbishop of Canterbury and all British diplomats entering Egypt, if the incident were repeated.
“We will apply the principle of reciprocity and treat British representatives the same way,” Deputy Foreign Minister Wafaa Bassim told the upper house of Egypt’s parliament last week, which passed a resolution demanding an official explanation from Britain for the diplomatic “affront.”
Foreign Minister Ahmad Aboul Ghait has also instructed Egyptian diplomats to boycott Heathrow airport and transit through Paris when en route to Washington or New York.
On April 15, Mr. Asquith met with Shenouda and offered his government’s apology, saying Britain had the “highest respect, esteem and affection” for him. There had been “no intention at all to offend His Holiness” Mr. Asquith said. “We regret any other impressions that might have been deduced.”
However, Egypt’s tabloid press has taken up the Coptic Pope’s case, speculating there was a “conspiracy” to “insult” Shenouda in retaliation to his harsh anti-Israel statements and opposition to the war in Iraq.