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Egypt

'Germany must support interim government'

Different political groups in Egypt need to work closely together, human rights expert Martin Lessenthin told DW. That's the only way for the country to effectively re-establish peace.

DW: Mr Lessenthin, your organization, the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR), has called on the German government to take a more active role when it comes to the recent crisis in Egypt. What do you think should happen?

Martin Lessenthin: We want Germany and its EU partners to support [Egypt's] interim government in trying to engage a broad section of society and to actually include all relevant players so that Egypt won't move towards a 'Talibanization' of its society.

How can Germany help with that?

Germany can learn from its past mistakes - we don't want [the German government] to welcome politicians and treat those who don't strive for goals like pluralism and gender equality as equals. Morsi's state visit at the beginning of this year - even though it was cut short because of continuing protests against him - was a huge mistake, and a slap in the face for the Egyptian democracy movement.

There have been two military coups in Egypt within 30 months. Is democracy possible in the country in the long run?

It's up for debate whether what's happening now with the ousting of Mr Morsi can be labeled a classic coup as we know it from countries in Latin America. Because what has happened was fueled by the fact that up to 22 million Egyptians took to the streets. Many of those who protested supported Morsi a year ago, because they were promised certain things, or because they got paid to vote for him. Now they protested against him. Those who are now seen as rebels pushing for the coup knew this very well, as they had experienced this throughout the past months.

I see the chance for a new beginning. But this chance should not be wasted in constellations that exclude important parts of political life in Egypt.

What do recent developments mean for religious minorities in Egypt?

At the moment, the aggression has turned on the old minorities. That means Morsi supporters, Muslim Brothers and Salafists have been carrying out pogroms against Shiites. They also discriminate against Baha'is and Sufis and especially against Coptic Orthodox Christians - the largest minority around the Nile. That's the sad situation.

[Discrimination] has increased under Morsi's rule. In particular violence targeting those Muslims not favored by the Sunni majority. But we also had this discrimination when Mubarak was in power, and it was also persistent and intolerable. We also saw it used as an instrument of power. There should be no return to times when Mubarak was in charge.

How do you get information from Egypt?

We have members there. We are an international society for human rights. These members are moderate Muslims, liberal Social Democrats. There are also many Copts among our members, but there are also Shiites and Baha'is. And they tell us about their lives, their everyday experiences which are mostly characterized by discrimination. Sometimes they also have to deal with shocking human rights abuses.

How secure are your members in the country?

Some of them are in great danger - those who have been victims before. On the one hand we know that with certain excesses, it's usually those considered supporters of Western ideas who become victims. But there are also people who have converted from Islam to Christianity, and they need to protect their identity so that no one knows where they live or work. These people run a high risk.

What needs to be done to de-escalate the situation in Egypt?

For things to cool off in Egypt it's essential that all significant political groups within Egyptian society participate in one common pluralistic process. That includes elections as well as public debate.

Human rights expert Martin Lessenthin is spokesperson for the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR).

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