Mr. Chair, I am pleased to share my time with the hon. member for Scarborough—Agincourt. I commend him for both his advocacy and passion in support of this compelling case and cause.
I am pleased to support the motion which states:
That this House stand in solidarity with those religious minorities around the world and strongly condemn the vicious attacks on Egyptian Coptic Christians and their institutions; call on the Egyptian Government to ensure that the perpetrators of the attacks be brought to justice and bear the full weight of the law; and, ask the United Nations Human Rights Commission to conduct an open and transparent investigation into the plight of Egyptian Coptic Christians and issue a public report on its findings.
While we speak and stand in solidarity with religious minorities around the world, a shocking case of religious persecution and discrimination has been passing under the radar screen. What makes it so shocking is not only the extent of the persecution and discrimination but that it goes largely unacknowledged and unaddressed. I am speaking of the fact that approximately 165,000 people are killed each year simply because they are Christian. In total some 200 million Christians worldwide live with the constant threat of persecution, threats, physical abuse, torture and death solely because of their faith. I would be remiss this evening if I did not highlight this unspoken tragedy.
I will turn now to the raison d'être of this take note debate which is contextualized by the persecution of Christians, to which I have just referred, and addresses the specific pain and plight of the Coptic Christians in Egypt, which is a standing blight on the Arab spring.
Who can forget the Tahrir Square revolution, the struggle of the Egyptian people for freedom, democracy and human dignity, which is one of the most inspiring moments of the Arab spring.
Who can forget Wael Ghonim, the young Egyptian expert in social media who ignited the people's revolution? Who can forget that Muslims and Christians stood together in a common cause? Who can forget the young men and women who joined together in the struggle for equality? Who can forget the moving calls for social and economic justice? Who can forget the calls for an end to state sanctioned censorship and the call for an open and free media? Who can forget the calls for an end to the culture of impunity and that the perpetrators be brought to justice?
Simply put, who can forget the call for a plural democracy, constitutional reform, civilian control of the military, the repeal of the emergency laws, and the hope that the army would be the guarantor of the democratic transition that would oversee the birth of a democratic constitution whereby every Egyptian would be equal before the law and enjoy equal protection and equal treatment under the law?
It is often said that the test of a just society and democratic policy is how that state treats its minorities. In that sense, the Coptic Christian community is a test case of Egyptian justice and that justice is wanting.
The history of violence against the Coptic Christian minority is not new. It began to accelerate in the 1990s when from 1992 to 1998 alone Islamic extremists murdered some 127 Copts. In 2000, a massacre left 21 Copts dead. If we fast forward to May 2010, Copts were the standing targets of angry assaults. On January 1, 2011, a bomb was detonated in front of a Coptic Church in Alexandria in the worst violence seen in a decade, killing 23 people and injuring over 100. I have only mentioned some of the sustained attacks.
While the anti-Mubarak demonstrations in Tahrir Square manifested sectarian co-operation whereby Muslims and Christians protected each other from police violence and government thuggery, the Coptic community soon found itself targeted by Muslim extremists who were angered by the building and repairing of churches and the simple acts of religious belief and expression. That exploded into violence on October 9 when a group of Christians organizing a peaceful protest against a recent assault on a Coptic church found themselves assaulted by those obliged to protect them, the Egyptian military, which resulted in 25 killed and over 300 injured.
Who can forget the YouTube videos showing armoured military vehicles driving at high speeds through crowds and into innocent Christian protesters? Who can forget Egyptian TV calling for “honest” Egyptians to rush to the defence of the military, not to the defence of the Copts? The broadcast said that the military was under siege from the unarmed Copts, a scurrilous accusation that incited vigilante attacks against the Coptic protestors who were fleeing from the military vehicles and army bullets.
The Egyptian military asked the government to investigate the violence, stating that all legal measures would be taken against those who organized, incited or participated in the violence. To date, no one has been held accountable.
In the question and answer period, I will set forth some recommendations as to what needs to be done.