Last night the Federal Labor Member for McMahon Chris Bowen spoke about the plight of Copts in Egypt in the House of Representatives. The transcript of his speech can be read below or here and his video address is below.
Tonight I wish to raise in the House of Representatives the plight of the Copts of Egypt. Copts make up between five and 10 per cent of Egypt's population, but they are suffering persecution and they are suffering violence as a growing concern. Copts have always been a group in Egypt who has been at risk but now we are seeing the Coptic community having their property stolen or destroyed, their members harassed and beaten, and their places of worship burnt or demolished. Due to a recent increase in tax, we have seen an estimated 100,000 Coptic people leave the nation of Egypt.
Now it is very clear that there is an obligation on every government of every nation of the world to provide protection to its citizens, protection regardless of race or religion. That obligation of protection of citizens falls on the government of Egypt, just as it falls on every other government in the world. We saw perhaps the first spectacular outbreak of violence with the Maspero massacre of October 2011, in which Copts staged a peaceful demonstration outside a local television station. They were protesting against the demolition of a church in northern Egypt.
By happenstance I was visiting St Mark Coptic church of Arncliffe the next day, and I recall being briefed on the events in Maspero square the night before—just before I visited the Church of St Mark in Arncliffe— and talking to the congregation of that church about the Australian government's concerns. We saw the deaths of more than 20 Coptic Christians in that massacre and the injury of many, many others. We saw St Mark and Pope Peter church in 2011 being attacked, and more
recently we have seen more attacks on the cathedral of St Mark in Egypt. An attack on a cathedral anywhere is an attack on cathedrals and on freedom everywhere.
I know that there are many, many people in Australia who are deeply concerned about the situation of Copts in Egypt, as I am, as other members of the House are and as the government is. I know the foreign minister, Bob Carr, is very alive to these concerns. I know he has raised the plight of Copts directly with President Morsi.
I know he has also raised the plight of Christians in the Middle East more generally with former Secretary of State Clinton, current Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Secretary Hague. I also think it is important that Australia uses its role as a member of the UN Security Council to be prosecuting the case for enhanced protection of Christians in the Middle East. I think the plight of Christians in the Middle East is one of the world's crises at the moment that is not receiving enough attention. Clearly the plight of the Copts of Egypt is one of those situations that is not receiving enough attention, and all members of the House and the other place would do well to ensure that it receives more attention. I know that former foreign minister Rudd felt this matter particularly keenly, and he hosted a reception of Copts on his visit to Egypt when he was foreign minister of Australia.
It has been my great pleasure to work with many members of the Coptic community, to work with Sayedna Bishop Daniel and Sayedna Bishop Sureil of Melbourne on these issues during my time as both a minister in the government and as the member for McMahon. I have also worked with the Australian Coptic movement. I have attended their rallies, including a recent rally in Sydney at Martin Place. We had hoped that the earlier rallies would be the last. We had hoped that the rallies in 2011 would be the last because we would no longer need to rally for freedom of religion for the Copts of Egypt. But alas we have had to continue to rally. Alas we have had to continue to fight and argue—and we will continue to do so.
As I said, it is incumbent on all governments to protect their citizens in every regard. It is incumbent on all governments to ensure that their people can live in peace and freedom and harmony. And the Copts of Egypt are not currently living in peace and freedom and harmony, and it is incumbent on the government of Egypt to ensure that they can. In many cases the revolution we have seen in the Middle East has resulted in poor outcomes, in worse outcomes for Christians. We have seen that in Iraq; we are seeing that now in Egypt. The Arab Spring has turned to an Arab winter for many, many people in the Middle East. Those people in the Middle East, in Egypt, and their friends and relatives in Australia, in my electorate and in electorates around the country need to know they have many friends in the House of Representatives, as indeed they do.