Australia condemns Coptic persecution
by Peter Day
October 13, 2011
The Australian parliament this morning did the right thing.
It unanimously condemned the ‘persecution’ of Coptic Christians in Egypt, and called on the Government to make ‘immediate’ representations on the Coptic issue both to the UN and to the Egyptian government.
The vote comes at a time of uproar in Egypt over the army’s brutal attacks last Sunday on Coptic protestors in Cairo, which have left at least 24 dead and more than 200 injured.
The unanimity of the Canberra vote is a tribute to the tireless efforts of Liberal MP Craig Kelly, who incorporated the condemnation in a private member’s bill introduced some time ago. Mr Kelly’s bill was a response to the continuing failure of the Egyptian government to protect Egypt’s estimated eight million Christians – about 10 per cent of the population – from the endemic anti-Christian violence that has worsened since the fall of the Mubarak regime in February.
But it was last weekend’s killings of Coptic demonstrators by the army that gave the bill its added urgency and timely significance. As Mr Kelly said in a brief speech to the House this morning, it was not sufficient to call for ‘restraint’ in Egypt. Referring specifically to the US Government, he said that military aid given to Egypt should be conditional on the behaviour of the Egyptian army. He said that on Sunday that army had committed ‘mass murder’ in Cairo. To support this, he referred to videos accessible on YouTube that show army vehicles ploughing at speed into crowds of Coptic demonstrators, while soldiers atop the vehicles fire live rounds into the crowds.
To illustrate the horror of Sunday’s events, Mr Kelly recounted to the House the testimony of a young Coptic woman who had to protect the mangled body of her fiancé from troops, even though he was already clearly dead. The distraught Ms Vivian Magdi told viewers of Egypt’s independent ON TV network (as reported by AP):
His body was in the middle of the wheels. His legs were torn. His head hit the pavement, breaking his skull. Soldiers gathered around us and started to beat him up. I begged them to leave him. He is not breathing. Then a soldier with a red cap came, shouting, cursing and hitting me with a stick then tried to beat him up. I threw my body on him (her fiancé) … and the soldier said to me: ‘You infidel, why are you here?’
Mr Kelly said that Egyptian state-owned television should ‘accept responsibility’ for additional attacks on Copts that were perpetrated by civilian vigilantes. The vigilantes were urged on by state television reporters who called ‘honest Egyptians’ onto the streets to fight with the army against the Copts.
However, over the past couple of days, spokesmen for the ruling military junta have continued to flatly deny that their soldiers deliberately killed any civilian protestors, and have defended the behaviour of the state-owned media. At the same time, there is clearly much disquiet in official circles. The last 48 hours has seen the near-resignation of the country’s (Muslim) finance minister in a very public gesture of protest, as well as numerous crisis meetings and expressions of outrage coming from a broad range of civilian political leaders. A widespread interpretation is that the ruling junta is trying to provoke violence and disorder as an excuse for its ‘emergency’ suspension of civil rights for all, and not just for Copts.
Bahy Eldeen Hassan, head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, told AP: ‘TV was used as the tool for instigating sectarianism and hatred to religion. This is the first time in the history of the state media to play this role. The calls on TV fueled violence…’
There is also disquiet among journalists. One well-known presenter, Dina Rassmi, wrote on her Facebook page:
I am embarrassed that I work in the TV. The Egyptian television is calling for a civil war between Christians and Muslims. The Egyptian television proved that it is a slave to whoever is the master.’
Following Mr Kelly’s remarks in the Australian parliament this morning , Anthony Albanese, the Government leader in the House, said that the Government ‘would not be shy’ in continuing its representations on behalf of the Copts ‘at the highest levels’ in the UN and directly with the Egyptian Government.
For the record, the Kelly bill:
(1) recognises that Coptic Christians in Egypt are suffering ongoing and increasing persecution;
(2) condemns the recent attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt;
(3) expresses its sympathy for Coptic Christians who have been victims of recent attacks in Egypt; and
(4) calls on the Government to:
(a) issue a public statement condemning the ongoing attacks against the Coptic Christian minority in Egypt;
(b) make immediate representations to the United Nations to end the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt; and
(c) strongly urge the Egyptian Government to provide equal rights and protection for all Egyptian citizens regardless of race or religion.
Peter Day is working on a book about Egypt and the Copts