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Military leaders and Muslim Brotherhood members attended a Coptic Christmas celebration on Friday for the first time.
Pope Shenouda III, who appeared extremely tired, conducted the holy mass at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, which was also attended by several political powers and presidential candidates.
The pope extended his greetings to Egyptians, saying that the celebration comes "Amid difficult circumstances in which people are asking 'Where is Egypt headed?'"
"Definitely somewhere good," he said in his sermon, which was aired live on state TV. "And I say this not out of optimism, but rather out of belief in God, who loves all Egyptians, and who will intervene for everything to turn out well."
The pope thanked the attendees, saying it is the first time that Islamic leaders from across the entire spectrum in Egypt attend the Christmas celebration.
The pope said he welcomed the attendance of a number of distinguished military leaders who have worked for a better Egypt. Sami Anan, army chief of staff and second in command in the military, was among several generals who attended.
Dozens of church-goers responded quickly to the pope's greetings by chanting “Down with military rule."
Hamdy Badeen, head of the military police, was present at the mass and subjected to heavy criticism by Twitter users who accuse him of killing Coptic protesters at Maspero on 9 October, when 27 people were killed in clashes with the military.
“Hamdy Badeen: I saw you on the day of the Maspero massacre kicking the face of an old man who bowed to kiss your leg in order to stop the killing. How dare you go to the mass with those same military shoes,” tweeted @KhaledSherbiny.
The pope continued his sermon despite ongoing chanting as church scouts asked for quiet.
Muslim Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) leaders were among those who participated for the first time in the Christmas celebration. Mohamed Morsy, the head of the FJP, and Mohamed Saad al-Katatny, the party's secretary general, greeted Pope Shenouda but left before the start of the mass.
Presidential hopefuls Amr Moussa and Ahmed Shafiq also attended.
This year Christmas, which Egypt's Coptic Christians mark on 7 January, followed escalating violence against the minority group in the wake of the protests that forced Hosni Mubarak out of office.
Christians, who make up 10 percent of Egypt's 85 million people, blame much of the violence on increasingly bold radical Islamists.
The Christmas celebration was held amid extremely tight security. Dozens of military police vehicles and central security trucks were deployed around the cathedral.
These measures come exactly a year after more than 20 people were killed in an apparent suicide bombing targeting a church in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. In 2010, meanwhile, six Copts were killed as they emerged from a Christmas Eve mass in southern Egypt.