More than 40 people have been killed in attacks that targeted Coptic churches in Egypt. Anba Damian, general bishop of Copts in Germany, has described a climate of terror and persecution in his homeland of Egypt.
DW: Bishop Damian, in the course of two attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt, more than 40 people were killed. Are you in contact with the communities in question, and what are they telling you?
Bishop Anba Damian: We have close relations with our communities in Egypt. Some of our community members in Germany even have relatives in Egypt. We are currently in a state of shock. We have learned that, in Tanta, the explosives had been hidden inside a lectern, and how, in Alexandria, the perpetrator entered the church in which the Pope (Editor’s note: Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Church) was celebrating Palm Sunday.
What are the repercussions of such attacks with respect to the coexistence between Copts and Muslims in Egypt?
Prudent Muslims express compassion, dismay and sympathy. Christians have a long tradition when it comes to peaceful coexistence. We are Egyptians, we’re living together in the same spot, and we try to treat one another peacefully. But what you get is a wide variety of reactions. The majority of Muslims are sympathetic and saddened. The extremists, however, rejoice when, from their point of view, the “process” (Editor’s note: of killing Copts) is successful. They call out “Allahu akbar” and, speaking metaphorically, wave the flag of victory. Others, yet again, show a very faint reaction. You really get a variety of reactions.
In what way has the situation for Copts in Egypt changed since the 2011 revolution?
The [government of former president Mohammed Morsi] well and truly gave us the psychological terror treatment. The current [Abdel-Fattah] el-Sissi government is using a very gentle, very amiable, very smooth Middle Eastern flowery language. However, with respect to our safety and our rights, the situation hasn’t really improved. We are convinced that the extremists’ aggression and the intensity of their terrorism have increased in such an enormous way that it’s now tantamount to a declaration of war against Copts. This war has already started in Sinai, where Copts were decapitated, torched and driven from their homes in the northern city of Al-Arish. Now they’re further implementing their strategy, targeting one church after another with their aggression.
Is there anything the Egyptian state can do to protect Christians?
In Egypt, you get glossy, glowing statements and great promises time and again. But everything repeats itself, because no-one tackles the root of the problem. I’m deeply convinced that one has to think about behavior and ideology, and reforms to Islamic doctrine. Security measures to protect Copts must also be more genuine and vigorous. A security authority – or an expert security plan – must be established in order to prevent such insane criminal acts that claim so many lives.
In your estimation, will a large number of Copts flee to Germany because of the terror threat?
They couldn’t do that. They don’t have the means. They don’t have the know-how. They don’t have foreign language skills. They don’t have opportunities. However, if they had those opportunities, some people would indeed prefer to leave their country.
Bishop Anba Damian is the general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Germany.
The interview was conducted by Christoph Ricking.