Mr. Speaker, I, like Canadians and many people around the world, am watching and listening in real time to what is happening in Egypt. I find myself reminded of previous conflicts, most particularly the Gulf War where, for the first time, people in the world stayed glued to their television sets as they watched a war being played out before them.
Yet today, it is social media, Twitter, Facebook, which not only changed the way the world learned of the events in Egypt, but was in fact the very catalyst of the demonstrations throughout the region, beginning in Tunisia. I, like many Canadians, have been transfixed and engaged and I expect we will be so in the upcoming days and weeks.
As my colleague from Toronto Centre has said, it is not for us to determine the outcome of events in Egypt, but we are undoubtedly witnessing a powerful movement for change, which underscores the importance of peace, stability and the universal values of free and fair elections, free assemblies, freedom of the press, equality of men and women, freedom for minority groups and, indeed, non-violence.
After the recent peaceful transition to democracy in Tunisia, the world watched with great concern, anticipation and hope as peaceful demonstrations in Egypt progressed. Until today, we saw huge, peaceful gatherings and we were relieved to see an absence of real and widespread violence.
As we all know, today’s events, however, have reiterated the importance of an orderly and non-violent transition to democracy that respects the will of the Egyptians and that reaffirms the civil liberties and universal rights of the Egyptian people and all of Egypt’s neighbours.
According to some reports, and some of them have been coming through Twitter, three people have died today alone, over 600 have been injured and we have learned that some clinics are receiving 20 new patients every five minutes. There have also been reports of attacks against foreign journalists, including a cameraman for Radio Canada, who was apparently beaten by an angry mob in Cairo. These are disturbing developments and only underscore the need for a peaceful and orderly transition to democracy, which has been the wish of the Egyptian people.
I think all members in the House share the real concern of Canadians, concerns for family members living in Egypt, concerns for family and friends who are among the over 6,000 Canadian citizens who were in Egypt when the demonstrations began on January 25 and a profound concern for the future of Egypt and the region as a whole. We are concerned for the well-being of those Egyptians who have been a part of the peaceful demonstrations. Once again, today’s violence must stop and an orderly and peaceful transition must continue.
In terms of Canadian citizens caught in Egypt, as the situation escalated, I was pleased to see that flights were leaving Egypt and that additional consular services had in fact been deployed by the Department of Foreign Affairs. It was concerning, however, and remains concerning, that the Canadian government failed to move quickly when the crisis began, so sufficient consular service were available to all Canadian citizens who required them. I have heard too many stories of Canadians who were unable to get through to a representative of Foreign Affairs, their phone calls not answered, their emails neglected and great concern about family members in Egypt.
I would hope this is not due to an under-investment in consular services by the government. I know my colleague from Toronto Centre has raised this issue a number of times. If this is the case, it has to be addressed and it has to be addressed quickly. We cannot leave Canadians in jeopardy.
As we go forward over the coming days and as the Egyptian people continue their demonstration, we must emphasize that democratic elections are not enough. The civil liberties of all Egyptians must be upheld. Universal human rights of minorities, of women and the civil liberties of Egypt’s neighbours must be upheld through positive engagement and the enshrinement of the peace treaty with Israel.
All members in this House understand the critical role that Egypt plays in the stability of that region, particularly the key role that Egypt’s 30-year peace treaty with Israel has played in ensuring stability, not only for the two countries but for the region as a whole. For this reason, it is not only Egyptians but its neighbours who look forward to not only democratic elections, but to a future where stability, respect for the peace process and the promotion of human rights and values are firm.
In this country, it is not time for partisan rhetoric and politics. The issues are too important and the stakes are too high. We must respect the will of the Egyptian people and support a bottom-up, real political reform. We must make clear our resolve that the future of Egypt and of the region must be premised on a continuance of respect of past peace agreements between Israel and Egypt and a continuing recognition of the state of Israel.
I was pleased to hear Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say in the Knesset today:
All those who value freedom are inspired by the calls for democratic reforms in Egypt. An Egypt that will adopt these reforms will be a source of hope for the world. As much as the foundations for democracy are stronger, the foundations for peace are stronger.
We support the will of the Egyptian people to transition to democracy but we must keep in mind the critical importance of stability and respect for the peace agreements and for the universal values that we hold dear. Any government must renounce violence and respect and adopt democratic values and norms.
I had an occasion not too many minutes ago to speak to an Egyptian-born relative living here in Canada. I asked him what was happening and what he wished for. He told me of the tremendous longing of members of his family for democracy, for free and fair elections and for a free press. He spoke of the importance of Canada’s role in assisting this to come about. Whether it is through diplomatic processes, aid or support for the institutions of democracy, there is a role for Canada and it is an important one. It should be to assist the Egyptian people as they undergo this historical transformation while guaranteeing the civil liberties of all Egyptians and of Egypt’s neighbours.