October 25th, 2011 / 9:35 a.m.
Antoine A. Malek Chair, Coptic Orthodox Community of Greater Montreal
Good morning. Thank you for having us here this morning. At the risk of using the same words as my colleagues, I will say that I too am proud to belong to a civilized country that respects human rights and is recognized for doing so. I am also proud to see that the current government is moving forward. I will cite some examples later on. My remarks will focus mainly on the role that Canada could play.
Before addressing certain suggestions and certain situations concerning the role that Canada has played in this matter to date, I would like to emphasize one point. The attacks against the Copts are an expression of the hatred against non-Muslims that is constantly taught in Egypt, where authorities close their eyes and where the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis have been undermining society and bringing fanaticism to the masses for decades. This is a fundamental reality and central to the problem. We are talking about the education and psychology of a people.
The overthrow of Mubarak and the resumption of power by the armed forces have not at all restored safe conditions for the Copts. Anti-Christian violence in Egypt is caused by extremist Egyptian Muslims actuated by a Christianophobia similar to the anti-Semitic hatred that made Egyptian Jews flee Egypt in the 1950s. I'll give you an example of this teaching. At the highest levels of society, in the most prestigious university in the Muslim world, Al-Azhar University, in Cairo, Jihad against the Jews and Christians is depicted as a collective duty of Muslims for the defence and expansion of Islam. Islamists cite a sura, a chapter in the Koran entitled "The Table Spread", which emphasizes the hostility and collusion of the infidels—the reference here is to miscreants or infidels, in other words Christians—and states: "They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them is of them."
This is the real origin of the anti-Copt pogroms and anti-Christian hatred in Egypt. It also applies to the Arab and Muslim countries won over the years through the virus of anti-Western Islamist totalitarianism and obscurantist Christianophobia. That is a brief summary, but it is a representation of everyday life.
As regards Canada's role, I would like to emphasize a world first in the Copt file. That world first was guided by the present Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Hon. Stephen Harper, who raised awareness of the Copt issue among the heads of state of the G8. We saw this last April, at the meeting of G8 ministers of foreign affairs, and then in May, with the heads of state. Even in April, in Canada's final communiqué in the context of the G8, mention was made of the Copt file for the first time.
I also hope that the creation of the new special office of religious freedom will truly be the pride of minority religious communities around the world and avoid falling into political correctness.
I believe this office will be worthless if it involves political correctness.
We have a number of suggestions regarding Canada's role. We are not necessarily attached to all these suggestions, but they do provide food for thought.
The social and political map of the Middle East is changing dramatically. I'm not just talking about Egypt. Yesterday, Tunisia elected a majority Muslim parliament. Yesterday, Libya officially declared Sharia law the basis of its legislation. Egypt next door is coming along. In Palestine, there are fewer than 5,000 Christians. Lebanon has a Christian majority, as was the case until around the mid-1960s. We don't know about Syria, but if ever the government in power is overthrown, we believe the Islamists will be there as well. We already know about Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia. So we can easily see what the Middle East is becoming.
The position of Coptic Christians in the Middle East is truly strategic for the West, Canada and the United States, and for Western Christian values. They are the largest Christian minority, not simply in that region, but in all Muslim countries of the world. That is why we have suggested creating an operational unit of a task force on Christians in the Middle East. I know the Department of Foreign Affairs has that kind of unit concerning the Muslim communities here. We believe the Middle East deserves this kind of operational unit.
We also suggest establishing a working group on Egypt that would focus solely on what is going on in Egypt. We expect there will be enormous changes in Egyptian politics and society and I believe that a task force on Egypt would be a good thing.
There has been talk about reacting strongly when the situation requires it because, on October 10, the day following the murders, Canada or the Department of Foreign Affairs issued a press release that I found disappointing. I immediately sent a letter to the Department Foreign Affairs.
I'll tell you why. On January 7, 2010, Canada was the first country to condemn the murders of seven Coptic Christians as they left church. I will read the following sentences: "Canada condemns the attack on Coptic Christians in Nag Hammadi." It also states the following: "We encourage the Government of Egypt to continue its efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice..." That's very good.
On January 1, 2011, following the attack on the church, Canadian authorities wrote, and I quote: "Canada condemns this latest vicious attack by extremists against Egypt's Coptic community."
On May 9, 2011, the Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the following statement: "The Government of Canada strongly condemns the violence against Coptic Christians in Egypt. We stand behind the Coptic Christian community and their right to practise their faith in safety and security, free of persecution." That's very good.
However, the October 10 statement reads as follows: "Canada urges all involved..." I'm sorry.
You can't put victim and murderer on the same level. That's disappointing. The word "condemn" did not appear in that press release, nor did the words "armed forces". And yet, it was the armed forces that did the killing. However, the following week, there was the new motion, and I then sent a thank you letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs on that subject.
As a Canadian, a Copt and an Egyptian, I would ask Canada to act in a file such as this, rather than simply react. It should not wait for an attack in order to act. I believe this file deserves to be monitored and that we should implement mechanisms in an attempt to prevent this kind of barbarism.