State press: Sarkozy comments on Christians could cost Paris nuclear assistance bid

Egypt may reject a French offer to build its planned nuclear power stations if Paris insists on criticizing the conditions faced by Christians in the Middle East, according to reports in Egypt's official press on Sunday.

On Friday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy asserted that Middle Eastern Christians were being targeted by a program of  "religious cleansing." Sarkozy’s remarks came less than a week after 23 Coptic Christians were killed when an alleged suicide bomber blew up a church in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve.  

“Sarkozy’s remarks about religious cleansing will serve to discourage Egypt from accepting a possible French bid to build Egypt's first nuclear reactor,” wrote Abdelallah Kamal, chief editor of state-owned daily Rose al-Youssef. “Sarkozy has to provide clarification,” added Kamal, who is also a member of the ruling National Democratic Party.   

In the wake of the deadly Alexandria bombing, French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie called on Europe to come up with a "coordinated response" to recent attacks on Middle Eastern Christians, both in Egypt and Iraq. The governments of France, Hungary, Italy and Poland, meanwhile, have asked the EU's foreign policy chief to "look into" the recent "wave of attacks on Christians."

Egypt has reacted angrily to the moves, with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit saying on Friday that the EU "lacked the authority" to assess Egypt’s handling of Muslim-Coptic relations.

“The French are eager to build Egypt's planned nuclear reactor, especially after losing the bid for an Emirati nuclear reactor,” said Kamal. "If France fails to win Egypt's nuclear power plant bid, its entire nuclear industry will collapse–it will be a major stain on Sarkozy's tenure as president."  

France is considered one of the most developed countries in the world in terms of nuclear technology, and boasts a nuclear program specifically designed to provide Third World countries with assistance in building nuclear reactors.

In December, authorities announced that Egypt would soon accept international bids for the construction of four nuclear reactors by 2019.

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