(Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa speaks during an interview in Cairo March 19, 2007. REUTERS/Tara Todras-Whitehill)

Egypt’s highest Islamic legal official denied on Tuesday that minority Christians faced sectarian discrimination and said Islamists would win no more than 20 percent of votes in next week’s election. Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa said Egypt had done its best to abolish discrimination against Copts, who make up 10 percent of Egypt’s roughly 80 million population, but a small minority of radical salafist Islamists were causing trouble.

Coptic leaders accuse the army of not protecting them against salafist attacks and cracking down more harshly on their protests than others. About 25 died last month when army trucks charged a mostly Coptic protest in Cairo.

“There is no real problem,” said Gomaa, Egypt’s second-highest Islamic official, whose office oversees the issuing of fatwas, or religious decrees, on application of Muslim law. The clash last month “was not sectarian violence”, he told Reuters at a Catholic-Muslim dialogue conference at the Jordan River in Jordan. “This just echoes the chaotic transition period we have been going through in Egypt.” he said.

Gomaa said no more than 250,000 Egyptians were salafists, or radical Islamists, and they and the non-violent Islamist Muslim Brotherhood would win less than one-fifth of the vote. “In the elections, the Islamists will not get more than 20 percent,” Gomaa said through an interpreter. “I’m sure the majority of Egyptians are with the moderate voice of Islam.”