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Evidence of meeting #8 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was egypt.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Barbara Martin  Director General, Middle East and Maghreb Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Marie Gervais-Vidricaire  Director General, Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Jeffrey McLaren  Director, Gulf and Maghreb Relations, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Hani Tawfilis  Board Member, Mississauga, Canadian Coptic Centre
X  As an Individual
Antoine A. Malek  Chair, Coptic Orthodox Community of Greater Montreal
Hugh Segal  Ontario, CPC

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

So despite the fact that the constitution of Egypt apparently guarantees the freedom of religion, there's a pattern, in your view, of the government not enforcing the law?

9:55 a.m.

Board Member, Mississauga, Canadian Coptic Centre

Hani Tawfilis

There is the point that you have a law but you don't apply it. It's as if it doesn't exist.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Okay. Thank you.

The second witness mentioned the identity card situation. I've heard of this before. Egypt actually requires every person to carry an identity card which on that identity card identifies their religion. Is that correct?

9:55 a.m.

As an Individual

X

That's correct.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

What happens if someone converts from one religion to another in terms of their identity card?

9:55 a.m.

As an Individual

X

Well, the expectation was that the new religion would be shown on the card, but to close this loop and to deter people from taking that approach, between brackets it shows “embraced Islam before” or “was Muslim before”.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Just to be clear for the record, for anyone who converts from one religion to another, the fact that they converted will be noted on their identity card for everyone to see...?

10 a.m.

As an Individual

X

That's correct. Of course, that will be our life. With every transaction you do, you automatically create enemies. The moment you step in any office they see your ID and here it is. So definitely any business you would like to do in this office will not be--

10 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

It seems to me that's quite a violation of human rights just in that one regard.

Tell us about your concerns about the upcoming parliamentary elections in Egypt. What are you concerned might happen in these parliamentary elections, which are beginning in November? In your view, what should Canada do with respect to these elections? Should we send election observers? Give us your view of what you think might happen.

10 a.m.

As an Individual

X

During the last 30 years there was a vacuum in regard to good education for new generations. I have been here for 30 years, but I used to have friends in engineering school, and I didn't realize whether they were Muslims or Christians. There was no “he is Muslim” or “he is Christian”. Everything was fine. But for the last 30 years--specifically from 1970, when this was introduced by Sadat--the whole education system has been infiltrated by this kind of ideology--don't shake hands with the infidel, and so on. So right now we have a complete generation, the young, including professors in universities, who have this kind of ideology or view on matters when it comes to Christians and Muslims. There is a vacuum there.

This is very fertile land for Islamists and for the coming election, because you have people who are illiterate in a way, politically, on how the world has evolved these days to have communications and so on. It's very easy to patronize and guide the attitudes of these people in regard to what direction they should follow when it comes to voting. Automatically when you come to a village and say, “Is it the law of Napoleon or a law of Islam?”, the person will feel guilty and say, “Well, it's Islam, for sure”. With this kind of very primitive approach to these attitudes, of course, it is easy to manipulate huge numbers of voters and to guide them to go for Islam as a way of governing the land.

My expectation, to answer your question, is that it is a high possibility that they will really gain seats, if not take the government completely.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

I have a quick question for Mr. Malek. You pointed out that the Prime Minister raised the issue of the persecution of the Copts at the G-8 Summit in Deauville earlier this year. You mentioned that Minister Baird mentioned the persecution of the Copts in his address to the UN General Assembly in September. You mentioned that Canada was the first country in the world to call for an independent investigation into the recent horrible incidents in Maspero, and you mentioned the government's commitment to create the office of religious freedom.

I point out that the commitment was made by Prime Minister Harper at the Canadian Coptic Centre in Mississauga. Obviously by doing that he indicated that the persecution of Copts and other religious minorities in Egypt would be one focus of that office of religious freedom.

How do you rate Canada's response to attacks on Christians and other minorities in Egypt in the last couple of years, compared to the past history of Canada's response to these kinds of incidents, which have been going on for a lot of years?

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Mr. Malek, you can have just a quick response, because we're out of time.

10 a.m.

Chair, Coptic Orthodox Community of Greater Montreal

Antoine A. Malek

Every action taken for justice, whether it be for the Copts for any other community in the world, is welcome. The Government of Canada—I mentioned this earlier and you just summarized what I said—has taken action and I ask it to take even more action.

I'll close with an interjection. I believe we have to be aware of the role that Saudi Arabia is playing in financing Wahhabism in Egypt and in the countries of the Middle East. An enormous amount of money is supporting those movements. The Egyptian government knows that, but it does not know how to manage the situation because Saudi Arabia provides Egypt with considerable financial assistance. So the Wahhabi movement in Egypt is extremely violent and is financed with oil money from Saudi Arabia.

I believe this is a very serious problem for which solutions will have to be found, perhaps in partnership with Saudi Arabia. I'm not here to talk about Saudi Arabia, but that's a fact.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

We're now going over to Mr. LeBlanc for seven minutes.

10 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My colleague, Mr. Karygiannis, is here, and I was hoping that he could take the time that would be allocated to me. He had some questions for the witnesses.

I just want to say that the witnesses have made very interesting presentations, and I appreciate very much the time you took to come here this morning.

10 a.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Good morning. I want to thank you for being here.

The attacks on Christians in Alexandria certainly were not in the last couple of years. It has been going on for a couple of hundred years.

However, I would say to you--and please disagree with me if you can, or agree with me--that the violent attacks we've seen were in 2008 at Nag Hammadi, in 2010 in Alexandria, and in 2011 at Maspero. Is that correct?

In 2008 at Nag Hammadi, there was a good response from the government. In 2010 at Alexandria, there was a great response from the government. I believe that Mr. Malek said the 2011 response from the government was not that great. Am I correct?

10:05 a.m.

Chair, Coptic Orthodox Community of Greater Montreal

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Sir, you said that the 2011 response from the government was not great.

10:05 a.m.

Chair, Coptic Orthodox Community of Greater Montreal

Antoine A. Malek

Yes, I'm going to answer you.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Sir, I'll put it to you this way. There was an ambassador there by the name of Ferry de Kerckhove. He was there from 2008 to 2010. He just moved on.

So you probably didn't get a good response because our ambassador, who was very well known in that area and had responses, was not there. The response, coming from the ambassador himself, was driven mostly by the bureaucracy in Canada and the Prime Minister's Office.

Having said that, we've seen 2008, 2010, and 2011, and yet have seen absolutely no reaction to take this to the United Nations, no reaction to take this to the UNHCR. Why is that? The Canadian government has not taken the appropriate steps.

10:05 a.m.

Board Member, Mississauga, Canadian Coptic Centre

Hani Tawfilis

Do you want me to respond?

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Sure. Do you feel neglected? Do you feel that there should have been a response? We have 2008, 2010, and 2011, yet no response. Do you feel that the community needs to have a response to the United Nations?

Do you think that your government—this body, the House of Commons—needs to make sure that your plight gets a response at the United Nations or at the UNHCR and at all the other committees that the UN has set up?

10:05 a.m.

Board Member, Mississauga, Canadian Coptic Centre

Hani Tawfilis

When 2011 came in, with the revolution in Egypt, we hoped that this would make a change for the Egyptians as a whole. Of course, now the pattern is continuing, and it will escalate more and more. Egypt, having a large number of uneducated people, either politically or in the schools--

I will answer your question.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Are you neglected? Are you feeling left out--

10:05 a.m.

Board Member, Mississauga, Canadian Coptic Centre

Hani Tawfilis

Of course we are waiting for the government to take a straightforward action to prevent this from happening. Taking it to the UN is one step, which we are requesting. We need to move it forward and push it forward, and we are asking the government to take this step.