Following are excerpts from an interview with Egyptian priest Yohanna Qulta, deputy patriarch of the Coptic Catholic church, which aired on Al-Hayat TV on December 10, 2011.
Interviewer: When I asked if the Copts were thinking of leaving Egypt, you said: "Absolutely."
Yohanna Qulta: Of course. The fear we encounter on TV and in national newspapers, which I don't want to name... Actually, why not? Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar... They run large headlines, quoting the Salafis as saying that the Copts should either leave Egypt or pay the jizya poll tax in submission.
The world has changed. The Copts did not fight you [Muslims] or drive you out of your homes, so why do you want to expel them? Do the Copts constitute a foreign community? They tell you that Switzerland persecutes the Muslims, France persecutes the Muslims... The persecution of any group is unacceptable - but we are not even a community of immigrants. We have deep roots in this country.
Interviewer: Do you Copts fear these Salafi statements? If they do come to power and instate the jizya poll tax - I'm not saying that this will happen, but let's assume this for the sake of argument - how will you respond?
Yohanna Qulta: We will oppose this fiercely, to the point of martyrdom. Returning to the Middle Ages is out of the question. We will not turn to the UN or to the Western countries, but to Al-Azhar, to Islamic moral values, and to the vast majority of Muslims, who are moderate. Gone are the days of paying the jizya, the days of slavery. What the Salafis and the others need to understand is that the religious state has failed, from East to West, in every era, both in Christian and Muslims countries.
The Church was liberated the day religious was separated from state. Has the Catholic Church collapsed in Europe, or in France? No, it still exists, despite the separate of Church and state.
It has been proven that a religious state is not compatible with human nature. The role of religion is to educate the human conscience. It shapes the conscience of Man, so that merchants have a conscience, engineers have a conscience, laborers have a conscience... Religion is not supposed to regulate traffic or taxes, or to determine whether one should wear the hijab or niqab. Religion is supposed to advise and guide, but to leave one with freedom of choice. Religion is freedom.
What did America - with 150,000 soldiers armed to the teeth - do for the Christians of Iraq? Churches were burnt down, Christians were martyred, and America did nothing. What did America do for the Christians of Lebanon? What did it do for the Arab Christians? What did it do for the Christians of Rwanda and Burundi, one million of whom were killed?
This is a lie. I'd rather turn to my Muslim neighbors.