Coptic Church: Who is the Egyptian Pope?
The Pope of the Coptic Church is the spiritual leader of the Egyptian Orthodox Christian community. The word "Coptic" means "Egyptian".
The Church dates back to around AD 50, when the apostle Mark is said to have visited Egypt. Mark is regarded as the first Pope of Alexandria. This makes it one of the earliest Christian groups outside the Holy Land.
The Coptic Church is one of the Eastern Orthodox churches and shares its general beliefs.
As the largest group of Christians living in the country, the number of Copts in Egypt is often politically contentious with estimates varying.
How was the Coptic Church born?
- The Coptic Church separated from other Christian denominations at the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) in a theological dispute over the human and divine nature of Jesus Christ
- This dispute has been reassessed in modern times, and the differences between churches are much less severe
"The Egyptian state estimates numbers to be between six and seven per cent, whilst some Coptic commentators say the figure is nearer 20 per cent of Egypt's 82 million person population," says Vivian Ibrahim, croft assistant professor of history and international studies at the University of Mississippi.
"Most analysts put the number between 10 and 15 per cent [of the Egyptian population]."
Muslim-Coptic relations have at times been extremely strained.
"Most commentators point to how the policies of the late President Sadat exacerbated sectarianism in an otherwise united Egypt," explains Dr Ibrahim.
"As an example, Sadat placed the late Pope Shenouda under house arrest in a monastery in 1981 - he remained in confinement for four years, well into Mubarak's reign.
"Prior to Sadat, President Nasser was known to have had an extremely close relationship with Pope Kyrillos VI. This however did not prevent discriminatory policies informally existing."No white smoke
The election of the Coptic Pope involves rituals and processes that date back many centuries. It is substantially different from the appointment of a Roman Catholic Pope, which is left solely in the hands of bishops from all over the world and culminates in the proverbial white smoke from the Sistine Chapel.
Unlike the Catholic Pope, the Coptic Pope is not regarded as infallible or supreme.
Candidates for the papacy must be at least 40 years old, with a minimum of 15 years' experience as a monk. They must be Egyptian, have never been married and practice celibacy.
There are 2,400 voting delegates in all.
Members of the Coptic Holy Synod, members of the General Lay Council and 12 lay delegates from every Coptic diocese in the world, including the UK, are eligible to vote.
Other voters include specific clergymen from each diocese, Christian ministers of the Egyptian government (past and present) and members of the Egyptian parliament.
Christian journalists who are registered with the Egyptian Press Association are also able to vote.British Copts
The election of a new pope is also a crucial event for the Copts outside Egypt, such as the estimated 20,000 Copts who live in the UK.
Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Church in the UK, told the BBC: "The election is very important."
"The Community is not separate from the Coptic Community in Egypt or anywhere else. We think of them as very close, both spiritually and ecclesiastically."
Once the voting delegates have been chosen, the Nominations Committee, which is appointed by the Holy Synod, drafts a list of potential candidates with a period of 30 days for objections.
For someone to become a candidate for papacy, they need to have been nominated by at least six bishops or 12 members of the General Lay Council.
Once the final candidates have been named, the voters choose the top three candidates.
Finally, a mass led by the Synod is held in the Cathedral of Saint Mark in Abbasiya and a child is chosen to draw the name of the new Pope from an urn on the altar, known as the Ballot Altar, which contains three tickets with the names of the three final candidates.Working out differences
"The child ritual shows that there's no politicisation in the election, whilst the fact that the urn is placed on the altar and that the names are chosen from the altar shows that God has the final say in the election," explains Bishop Angaelos.
Is there a risk that the new Pope might refuse the appointment? Bishop Angaelos does not believe so. "It's possible, but highly unlikely, as candidates are approached at every stage of the election," he says.
The Coptic Pope is also known as the Patriarch of Alexandria and is based in Cairo.
Relationships with Rome are stable, Bishop Angaelos says: "They are both historical, scriptural and sacramental churches, so there are lots of common characteristics.
"There are a few dogmatic differences but we have been working on them."