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Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said on Saturday that a deadly church attack in Alexandria on New Year's Eve targetted the whole country and not just its Coptic Christians.
The bombing outside the church that killed 24 people emerging from mass was "directed at Egypt and Egyptian unity and to weaken the national fabric," Abul Gheit said after talks with visiting French counterpart Michele Alliot-Marie.
"The Egyptian people, Christians and Muslims, had the feeling that national unity was the target. The Egyptian constitution is extremely clear on freedom of belief, on the right to practice one's faith and on the duty of the state to protect its citizens," he said in an apparent response to Western statements highlighting the need for protection of the country's Christians.
Alliot-Marie said the perpetrators had targeted the "Egyptian state, with its characteristics of democracy and tolerance.."
She said the Egyptian population had reacted "exactly like in France when there is an act against a mosque or a synagogue: there is unity."
“All our democracies, because they are tolerant and stress freedom of thought and the right of worship in their texts and in their government's statements, are challenged by the terrorists," she said.
Egypt has firmly rejected several Western calls for the protection of the country's Christian minority as "interference" in its domestic affairs.
Cairo recalled its envoy to the Vatican over remarks by Pope Benedict XVI on Coptic Christians.
Benedict said the attack was "yet another sign of the urgent need for the governments of the region to adopt... effective measures for the protection of religious minorities".
Egypt's Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the 80 million population, complain of systematic discrimination and have been the targets of several attacks.