Who will be the next pope?

Does anyone find it weird that Pope Shenouda III was scheduled to Germany this week for an emergency spinal cord operation -- the exact same pretext that Mubarak went to Germany last summer for? The pope's kidneys are also in bad shape, apparently, and he might be heading to the US for treatment.

Nahdet Misr's leading article yesterday worries about his health and wonder who would replace him. Valid question -- the Coptic pope has been in power for longer than Mubarak himself (since 1971) and has played an overtly political role in Egypt, breaking with long-standing tradition by, for instance, endorsing Mubarak for re-election last September. That controversy also exists within the church, with a monastic tendency that tends to eschew temporal power that has been increasingly at odds -- and come under attack -- from Shenouda, notably embodied by the followers of Father Matta Al Miskeen and the monks of the monastery of Makarious.

Needless to say, the election of a new pope should something happen to Shenouda would come at an interesting juncture in Egyptian politics, especially when Copts are increasingly disgruntled (and vocal) about the discrimination they endure.

My friend Paul Schemm wrote an excellent article about the roots of this split in the church in the Cairo Times (Volume 6, Issue 39) a few years ago, I might post it at some point when I get back to Egypt.