Mr. Chair, the NDP very strongly supports the debate we are having today. As Canadians, members of all political parties are very concerned about what is happening in Egypt. Because we had that presentation from the Coptic community to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, we saw that it was very timely and really critical that we debate this as Canadians. It does not matter which political party we belong to; we absolutely value our fundamental belief in freedom to practise our religion and our belief in democratic structures.
In that light, we stand strongly with our brothers and sisters in the Coptic community as they face persecution and attacks in Egypt.
We are very concerned about the ongoing violence and the role that the military has played in that violence. We are demanding an independent investigation into the role of the military in the killing of protesters on October 9.
My colleague across the way gave a very eloquent history of the Coptic affiliation with Egypt: how they were there 600 years before the Muslim community arrived, how they make up 8% to 10% of the population of Egypt and how they are the second-largest religious group in that area. As such and as residents of Egypt, whether they have been there for a long time or whether they have just arrived, in a free democratic society they deserve to have the freedom to practise their religion without any persecution. It is absolutely imperative that we get that on record.
We will continue to support democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people. I want to remind people that when there was a rising against Mubarak's rule in Egypt, Coptic Christians and Muslims stood side by side in saying that it was time to fight for democracy, an ongoing democracy. They stood side by side. Even though today in Egypt some clerics may be inciting violence and asking people to defend the military, we also know that there are Muslim clerics who are standing with their brothers and sisters, the Coptic Christians, and saying this is not acceptable in the Egypt of today.
It is very clear to me that a solution rests within Egypt, and that is where solutions are often best found. However, Egypt needs some assistance during this time, and as Canadians we have a proud history and lots of expertise in helping with constitutions. As Egyptians move forward toward their elections and their constitution, we need to make sure that enshrined in that constitution is protection for minority groups and for those of different religions. Religious freedom has to be protected; it is imperative for that principle to be there.
To ensure that occurs, we also have to ensure that all the different groups play a real part as a constitution is constructed. Then we move into the electoral process, but women must also be fully included in that political process so that we have a real democracy in its full terms. I am not hearing any argument from the other side on this one.
We want the Government of Canada to establish a non-partisan democracy agency. It promised to do so in 2008, because Conservatives support democracy around the world as well. If we do that, having such an agency would be of real assistance as we face challenges like this.
The Prime Minister made that announcement in 2008 and no action has been taken on it yet. It is time for us to take some strong steps on that.
With regard to Canada's aid to Egypt, Canada is known for the nation building, humanitarian work and developmental work it does around the globe. Right now our work in Egypt is focused on economic development. In light of the political developments and the persecution taking place, it is time for us to redirect and refocus our aid so we are there to promote democracy and build the kind of civil society that is not just tolerant but accepting and inclusive of different religions and ethnic minority groups. Without that, it would be very difficult for a democracy to be established and survive. That will be very critical during the next phase. We have to pay special attention to that.
What we want are very simple things. I am hoping there will be agreement on this from all parties in the House. We want the protection of human rights and fundamental liberties, including religious freedom for all Egyptians. We want an independent investigation into the role of the military in the killings of the protestors. This investigation should be conducted by independent judicial authorities and not by the military itself.
We call for a free and fair electoral process in the upcoming parliamentary elections. We want the Canadian government to continue to urge the Egyptian government to overturn a ban on international election monitors. It is important that Canada and other nations have a very strong presence during the next electoral period. Without it, there will be a lot of dissatisfaction.
Another concern is that during this transitional period Egyptian women have largely been excluded from high-level constitutional talks. There are those who think that women cannot possibly participate, but let me assure everyone that women have a lot to offer. Any constitution that is put together with the full input of women will address a lot of the problems in society today. We would like the Canadian government to urge Egypt to ensure that women are equal participants in the democratic development process. After all, we have that commitment under UN Resolution 1325 and we are obligated to it.
We want the Government of Canada to establish the non-partisan democracy promotion agency, as it promised to do in its 2008 throne speech. I know the Prime Minister is committed to doing that, but he became busy doing things. I am sure when he returns from his trip he will give it his full attention.
We also heard recently about a new office of religious freedom. We do not need more new offices of religious freedom. That would be best addressed through our foreign policy.
The reports we are hearing about Egypt are not just stories being told to us by our Coptic brothers and sisters. Human Rights Watch is very concerned about what is happening in Egypt and the role the military has started to play. It has seen evidence of excessive force. Recently, Human Rights Watch wrote:
The only hope for justice for the victims is an independent, civilian-led investigation that the army fully co-operates with and cannot control and that leads to the prosecution of those responsible.
It is not just us saying there should be an independent investigation; Human Rights Watch is saying the same thing.
It is very easy to put people in silos, but I want to emphasize that there are Muslims in Egypt who are speaking out and standing up with their brothers and sisters in the Coptic community. We want to foster that civil society so that the solutions can be found in Egypt for Egyptians with freedom for one and all, with everyone included.