Photo Gallery: Copts Celebrate a Wary Christmas

Foto: Frank Rumpenhorst/ dpa

Egyptian Ambassador on Anti-Christian Violence 'Muslims Are Standing Side by Side with the Copts'

Coptic Christians are celebrating Christmas in Germany under police protection this year amid fears of attacks by Muslim extremists. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Egypt's ambassador in Berlin criticizes the German reaction to the New Year's Day terror attack in Alexandria and insists there is no discrimination against Christians in his country.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr Ambassador, after the New Year's Day attack  on a Coptic Christian Church in Egypt that killed 21 people, Copts in Germany fear assaults by Muslim extremists, and police are guarding Coptic churches.  Are you planning to visit a Coptic community to show your solidarity?

Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy: Of course I will join the Christmas church service in the Egyptian Coptic church in Berlin -- as I do every year. I will express my heartfelt condolence to our citizens in my function as their ambassador. Egyptians are Muslims, Copts as well as Jews -- the country has always been multireligious. While the overwhelming victims of the terrorist act were Coptic Christians, it was clearly directed against Egypt as a whole.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Dutch Muslim organizations offered to guard Coptic churches. Is that reasonable?

Ramzy: Of course it is. Similar things are also happening in Egypt: Muslims are standing side by side with the Copts. We are all one people.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In Egypt, Copts have demonstrated against President Hosni Mubarak. They accuse his government of being jointly responsible for the attack. How do you explain this rage?

Ramzy: I can understand the sorrow and rage of Egyptians Copts, their community was hit by terror -- but the government has done everything possible to fight terrorism. Terrorism is a worldwide phenomenon and does not discriminate between colors, creed or religious affiliation. I feel sorry that this time the Copts were their victims. As you recall, Egypt was a victim of a terrorist wave in the 1980s. It was aimed at the security and stability of the country. We overcame this wave as we will do with this particular incident.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Several German politicians have criticised the Egyptian government  for not providing enough protection for Christians. Do you understand this position?

Ramzy: I am aware of the statements made and I regret that some of them were not based on concrete facts. It is easy to pass judgement when you are living outside Egypt, but some people should inform themselves better before talking about the circumstances in other countries. Copts and Muslims enjoy the full protection of the Egyptian state; they are equal under the constitution and enjoy equal rights.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The US State Department has also criticised the lack of religious freedom in Egypt and blamed the government for not changing laws which discriminate against Copts. Is there any need for change?

Ramzy: There are no laws that discriminate against Christians in Egypt. Change in the sense of evolution of society to attain fulfilment in every sense is an objective for all governments, and we in Egypt are no exception in that.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Copts are hardly allowed to build churches, and they are rarely accepted into the civil service. Isn't that discrimination?

Ramzy: There is absolutely no discrimination by Egyptian law. There are many Copts who are ambassadors in important places, as well as in other important positions. The Egyptian minister of finance is a Copt, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the parliament is a Copt. How can we say that there is discrimination when the three Egyptians in the (list of the) 100 richest men in the world are Copts? They couldn't have achieved this through their business in Egypt if there was discrimination.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How can Egypt reduce tension between Muslims and Christians?

Ramzy: I would put it in a different context: As I already said before, there are extremists everywhere, not only in Egypt but also in Germany, in the United States, in Israel and elsewhere. Extremists are on both sides: Muslims and Christians, as is the case in Germany as well. Their aim is to disrupt societies through violent means, and they shouldn't be allowed to succeed in that. We in Egypt, as all other governments including the German government, are united in our policies to combat extremism in all its forms.

Interview conducted by Anna Reimann
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