Mr. Speaker, I rise today to lend my voice to this emergency debate on the crisis that is occurring in Egypt.
I too condemn the violence that has occurred and extend my condolences to the families of the victims and pray for peace and stability. I will be sharing my time with the member for Ottawa—Vanier.
This is a time of opportunity, not just for one country but also for an entire region, a time of opportunity that is unprecedented. It is also a time of great risk and great uncertainty. All sides must share in the priorities of peace, and Egypt must continue its leadership role in the peace process in the Middle East.
Following President Mubarak’s announcement that he will not seek re-election, Canada reiterated its support for the Egyptian people as they transition to a new leadership and a promising future.
As Egypt moves towards new leadership and a new regime, we encourage all parties to work together to ensure an orderly transition toward a free and vibrant society in which all Egyptians are able to enjoy the rights and freedoms we enjoy here in Canada, and not a transition that leads to violence, instability or extremism.
Canada must strongly support an open transition to democratic values and governance in Egypt. The Egyptian government must respond now to the people’s demands. There needs to be freedom of expression and assembly, free and fair elections, and freedom from persecution for religious minorities. This is not just about economic and social change. There must be a fundamental change in the manner of governance, proper elections and other steps towards democratic values and respect for human rights.
Canada must also strongly support the rights of people to demonstrate peacefully, and we call on the Egyptian government to reverse the steps it has taken to crack down on such expression, including restoring social media and cellphone service.
We respect the Egyptian leadership’s longstanding support of the Middle East peace process, its support in fighting terrorism and its opposition to the Iranian threat. But we will not support or abide the use of force against legitimate dissent and the use of extrajudicial means against the people.
We are encouraged by the army’s pledge not to use force against the people.
At this time, not all details are clear, but there are concerns that the government is involved in fomenting the clashes. If this is true, it must stop, and they must start helping to control the violence.
Egyptians themselves will determine the outcome of these historic events. However, we are concerned, as all parties, governments and actors should be, about the possibility that a change in government could bring forth a government that is, in whole or part, averse to peace in the region or that would want to abrogate the longstanding and historic peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.
Egypt has been the linchpin of Middle East peace, and all governments and parties should make the maintenance of peace a top priority for the wellbeing of all of the region’s citizens.
I would like to discuss the rights and freedoms of members of my community, rights that have been abrogated in Egypt, and how we as Canadians must be vigilant in standing up for the rights of minorities. I am blessed to have one of the largest, the third largest in fact, Egyptian communities in Canada residing in my riding of Mississauga—Streetsville. These Egyptians are primarily Coptic Christians, who are the largest religious minority in Egypt. The Copts are the native Egyptians Christians, a major ethno-religious group in Egypt.
Christianity was the majority religion in Roman Egypt during the 4th to 6th centuries and, until the Muslim conquest, has remained the faith of a significant minority of the population until the present day. Copts in Egypt constitute the largest Christian community in the Middle East, as well as the largest religious minority in the region, accounting for an estimated 10% of the Egyptian population. Some officials estimate that these Christians represent 5% to 10% of a population of over 83 million Egyptians.
Members of the Canadian diaspora conclude that there are 250,000 to 400,000 Coptic Christians here in Canada.
Most Copts adhere to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.
I have had the pleasure of attending mass at the Church of the Virgin Mary and St. Athanasius, and have been blessed by His Holiness Pope Shenouda, one of the most profound experiences of my life.
As a religious minority, the Copts are subject to significant discrimination in modern Egypt and are the target of attacks by militant Islamic extremist groups.
Many in the Coptic Christian community have expressed frustration, anger, shock and horror at the ongoing religious persecution that has targeted Coptic Christians and been escalating. The Coptic community has been targeted with hate crimes and physical assaults. Members of the U.S. Congress have expressed concern about the human trafficking of Coptic women and girls, who are the victims of abductions, forced conversions to Islam, sexual exploitation and forced marriages to Muslim men.
Last Christmas eve we witnessed a massacre at Nag Hammadi, where seven were killed and many more injured. Just a few weeks ago, on Christmas eve in Alexandria, 21 Copts were killed and 79 injured. With this growing religious intolerance and open sectarian violence against Coptic Christians in recent years, we are concerned for the Coptic Christians and about the failure of the Egyptian government to effectively investigate and properly prosecute those responsible.
The freedom to practice religion and the protection of minorities are significant rights in a democratic society. These are values that we hold near and dear in Canada. Yet these rights have not been extended to Coptic Christians.
The Coptic community recently issued a statement that it preferred the rule of President Mubarak to that of an unknown alternative. Their fear is that the Muslim Brotherhood, a group of Muslim fundamentalists, could or would fill the leadership void that would exist. That would represent a very concerning and much less stable option. It is important, as Hillary Clinton stated, that there be an orderly transition to a more politically open Egypt.
President Obama stated that Egypt’s $1.5 billion aid package would be reviewed if peaceful protesters were dealt with harshly, and he urged President Mubarak to take the concrete steps to enact the political and economic reforms that are needed. To date, President Mubarak has promised not to run in the next election scheduled for this September.
As Canadians, our priorities must be clear. First, we must ensure the security of our citizens on the ground in Egypt, as they continue to face a dangerous and unstable situation. The government must offer increased consular services to come to their aid and evacuate those who wish to return home to Canada. The safety and security of all Egyptians must also be a foremost priority.
This is an important moment for the people of Egypt. It is a time of crisis and concern, but it is also a time of hope and opportunity. We pray for a return to peace, stability, and security and to an open transition to democracy and reform.