Speech on House of Commons Debate on Coptic Christians in Egypt


Speech on House of Commons Debate on Coptic Christians in Egypt
Hon. John McKay P.C., M.P.

October 27, 2011

Mr. Speaker,
We have watched with enthusiasm the Arab Spring. People from Tunisia to Yemen have shown to the world their yearning for freedom and accountable government. In our own small way Canada has contributed to throwing off the yoke of oppression by a madman. We can only hope that the people of Libya don’t descend into a chaos worse than before. It was also encouraging to see the election take place in Tunisia.

How this all shakes down is anyone’s guess but Canada should directly (government to government) and indirectly through its diaspora, encourage the pursuit of rights, dignity and the rule of law.

Which brings me to Egypt Mr. Speaker. Egypt is easily the largest and one of the most important of all the Arab countries. It has a glorious past and possibly a glorious future but for many decades has wallowed in a state of despair and despondency which has never allowed it to take its rightful place of leadership in the community of nations.

Just a few months ago Coptic Christians and Muslims stood shoulder to shoulder to throw off the yoke of the Mubarak regime. Unfortunately that unity of purpose and hope has been fractured by the abuse of some Islamist elements that have used this time of turmoil to settle ancient grievances and assert a form of Islam repugnant to the legitimate aspirations of those Egyptians who risked their lives for freedom.

Equally unfortunate has been the willfully blind attitude of the military to the abuses of minorities, particularly Copts.

As the sole remaining protection of the security and rights of all Egyptians the army has been missing in action. Television images of willful destruction of churches and abuse of worshipers reflects very poorly on the military. The protection of minority rights and religious freedom should be, if it’s not already, a core value of the military and those that aspire to lead the country. One would have hoped that the army would have been Egypt’s guarantor of security as Egypt transitions to an accountable post-Mubarak government.

The treatment of the Coptic Christians will be the litmus test for Egypt’s success. If the abuse of people and the destruction of property continues Egypt will fail. The Arab Spring will become an Arab Winter in Egypt and the people will return to a new era of despair and despondency which will look a lot like the old era of despair and despondency. To those who support the religious persecution of this minority, I say that you are destroying Egypt’s chance of success.  

It is the ultimate self limitation. If Egypt doesn’t treat the Copts with dignity, respect, and the Rule of Law, Egypt will fail. No country in the world can abuse its minorities and expect to prosper.

Sri Lanka being a classic example. Sri Lanka has had a low grade civil war for several generations. In 2008 the war ended militarily but the conflict continues because there is no justice or respect for the religious and ethnic minorities. It has debilitated Sri Lanka and it will debilitate Egypt.

There is no doubt that Egypt will face serious challenges regardless but it will inevitably handicap itself if it fails to respect and protect the Coptic minority. The best traditions of ancient Islam protected and encouraged minorities. Turkey, when it was the centre of the Ottoman Empire protected minorities and it prospered.

The reason is simple. If minorities don’t feel that they can practice their faith freely then they feel that they have no stake in the prosperity of the country. Then the minority stops contributing and in fact the contribution can go negative quickly.

One form is a mass exodus where the best and the brightest leave and their talents and wealth are lost to the country forever. Another form is security challenges either in the form of parallel governments or worse still in terrorism. Look at all the prosperous years Ireland lost over sectarian strife. The “troubles” were settled a few years back – religious rights respected and at one point Ireland was being described as a Celtic Tiger.

Egypt is at a crossroads. It can choose to protect and respect Coptic Christians and it will prosper or it can choose to persecute them and it will fail.