The meeting of the Saudi royal and Coptic Pope was called “unprecedented” by Egypt’s state media. Photo credit: Markas Ishak/The Coptic Orthodox Church Press Office 

On his first public trip abroad as the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman yesterday (5 March) visited close ally Egypt and met the leader of the Coptic Church, Reuters reports.

Saudi’s al-Arabiya TV channel showed Prince Mohammed and Pope Tawadros II walking together in Cairo’s St. Mark’s Cathedral. The meeting that was called “unprecedented” by Egypt’s state media and in line with the prince’s promise to promote a more moderate form of Islam in his country.

“This meeting with the head of the Coptic Church gives a clear message that the crown prince is taking his promise to promote a more moderate style of Islam seriously,” commented Henriette Kats, analyst at Christian charity Open Doors International. “Although this may be a first step, there is still a long way to go: Saudi Arabia – as the proud custodian of Islamic holy places – still denies the fact that there are Saudi Christians in its kingdom.”

Kats said there has been an increase in the number of Saudi Muslims turning away from Islam because of the atrocities committed by hard-line groups such as Islamic State. However, she said that most Saudis would still be unlikely to turn to Christianity as it is still seen as an “inferior” religion.

“The crown prince’s visit to the Coptic Church might serve to improve Christianity’s image in the eyes of Saudi citizens,” she said.

Kats added that those Saudis who do convert to Christianity often face persecution, and that for this to change an important first step would be for the Christian minority to be recognised.