|| That this House do now adjourn.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak in this debate. It is unquestionable that we face an urgent situation in Egypt at the present time. Any Canadian watching the news tonight will be aware of the level and degree of violence in the streets, as it appears that there is active fighting between the forces that are closely tied to President Mubarak and those who are demonstrating for significant change in Egypt.
I will be sharing my time with my colleague from , but there are some events taking place even now.
We have just learned that CBC employees were attacked in the streets and, without the intervention of the Egyptian army, they could have been seriously injured by the physical attacks.
My comments will primarily focus on two issues: the protection of the Canadian government's consular operations—the government's policy in response to the problem and the situation—and the crisis, which is not limited to just Cairo or Egypt and remains a major challenge for the entire region.
I want to say a couple of things in the debate and there will be a chance for questions. There will also be a chance for questions to the government with respect to the activities of Canadian officials and what has happened.
I want to make it very clear that our side recognizes the great hard work of people who work on behalf of the citizens of Canada and the very difficult circumstances in which our embassy officials in Cairo have found themselves over the last several days.
The underlying challenge, and we saw it emerging from the Lebanon crisis, is that Canada consistently finds itself under-resourced, without enough people on the ground and without a sufficiently determined response time from the government in Ottawa. We were behind in our response with respect to the Lebanon situation.
A valuable report coming from the other place refers to some of the difficulties and challenges that we see in this particular instance. Many Canadians had a great deal of difficulty finding out about the circumstances affecting their loved ones, their children, their cousins and those who are part of their families. We also saw those people themselves facing a challenge as they tried to find out information about how they could possibly get out of the country.
The minister took great offence yesterday when I asked a simple question based on facts. The fact of the matter is that Canada faces a problem. Far too many of our personnel are here in Ottawa and not enough of our personnel are working on behalf of Canada overseas. That is a problem and a challenge which must be faced. We are also not always using the most up-to-date technology to get in touch with Canadians or to make sure they are available.
The one thing we know for certain is that this is not an issue about looking back and saying who did wrong and who goofed up. One thing we know for certain is that we will face in the future more of these situations. This is the world we are living in. We are living in a world in which there are either man-made difficulties, political difficulties and challenges, or difficulties involving natural disasters. We simply have to improve our capacity as a government to respond to the critical situation. That is the first point I want to make.
The second point I want to make is that none of us could have anticipated the extent and the pace of change which has taken place in the Middle East. Countries which seemed from the outside to be extremely stable are now profoundly unstable. Deeply repressed, yes. Oppressive, yes. Hierarchical, yes. Virtual dictatorships, yes. They are profoundly unstable because their people are expressing a very simple reality; they have had enough.
More than half the population of Egypt is under the age of 30. It is a young country. It is a country with a 5,000 year old civilization, but it is a young country. It is a young country in which people are becoming better educated, in which people are increasingly learning of all of the challenges of globalization. It is a young country where all of the opportunities are in place. Its people see an economic and social system of which they are taking advantage. The revolution and technology of Twitter and Facebook, and the social media which has taken over the younger generation which allows them to communicate one with the other, allowing people in Tunis to communicate with people in Cairo, allowing people on the street in Cairo to tell others to come out for a demonstration and tens of thousands of people come out.
It is not possible to ascribe what has taken place and what continues to take place to political radicalism or to a particular ideology that is in place, although that obviously has a role and we must recognize that presents us with a challenge. We have to understand that this is a part of the world in which all of the theories about social change and political change are actually being put to work on the street.
Our party, the government and others have made the same point, that it is not for us as Canadians to determine what the outcome in Egypt is going to be.
However, it is important for us to state today that it is very clear that the steps that have been announced by President Mubarak with respect to his own plans and with respect to the plans that he is supposedly putting forward for political reform are simply not sufficient to deal with the extent of the concern and with the extent of popular reaction to the regime.
This is not any form of outside interference. This is a simple statement of the facts. This is a simple statement that what has been done so far is clearly not having the effect that we all want to see.
There is a legitimate concern in stability as much as there is a legitimate concern in democracy because we all know from our own lives that without a degree of stability and without personal security it is not possible for us to see working democracies really advance. However, we do not want to see a time when governments use the security and the stability arguments as an excuse for further repression.
We want to state categorically on behalf of this Parliament that we affirm the dignity of every person around the world. We affirm their dignity, we affirm their human rights, their right to the rule of law, their right to democratic assembly, their right to peaceful assembly, their right to freedom of religion and their right to freedom of expression. We do not see these as being confined to any one country. We see these as values that are indeed universal and they are contained in the documents that are expressed by the United Nations itself in terms of the rights of every person in the world.
There is a profound movement for democracy that is under way in the Middle East. It is an extremely encouraging and profound movement. It is important for this Parliament to state very clearly to the Egyptian people that we are with them in their struggle, we are with them in their quest for democracy, we are with them in their quest for stability. We say to all the people of the Middle East, and I would say most emphatically including the people of Israel, that we value the peace and stability which has been achieved at such great costs. Canada will stay involved and stay engaged in the peace process to ensure that the democratic change, indeed the democratic revolution that is now under way in Egypt and Tunisia and many other parts of the Middle East, does not take away for one second the need for peaceful co-existence between Israel and all its neighbours in the Middle East.
I appreciate the chance to speak on this debate. I appreciate the opportunity to share some thoughts with the members opposite. I do not see this debate as an opportunity to take partisan shots one way or the other. It is a chance for us as members of Parliament to have a thoughtful exchange on what we think is taking place, on what we think Canada can usefully and productively do to be a constructive partner for peace as well as a constructive partner for justice and democracy.
That is the kind of foreign policy we want to see, a Canada that is deeply engaged in the world because, as I often say, the world is in us and we are profoundly in the world.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the important debate tonight on the current events that are taking place in Egypt.The Liberal critic for foreign affairs is a difficult act to follow.
I would like to talk about Egypt from a personal perspective. I have been historically involved in Egypt through ancestors, et cetera, and I find the current situation brings me a lot of trepidation.
Egypt has been the cradle of civilization and the cradle of three of the great monotheistie Abrahamic religions. What is unfolding in Egypt is not a new trend because throughout civilization Egypt has gone through good times and bad times. However, what is happening today is a reaction by people who have been subjugated for 30 years and not being allowed the freedom that they want.
Popular uprisings and revolutions are fluid by nature and unpredictable as they are more concerned with getting rid of the old than defining the new regime. We have seen many examples. What comes to mind is what happened in Iran in 1979 and what transitioned then. Uprisings promise change but make no guarantees that such change is non-violent in the short term or will lead to pluralistic democratic society in the long term.
A peaceful transition in Egypt will depend mostly on the existing power brokers, especially the military and its political partners in Cairo. It is important that Canada play a leadership role now so that when we help the politicians make decisions we will be clear on what we stand for. We stand for pluralism and democracy. We are not imposing any of our values on anyone. However, we are leading them to where they should be going for free democratic elections.
As has been mentioned, the Egyptian people are fed up. The speed with which the grassroots movement, the civil society, has organized itself has been amazing. For six days there had been no violence. Violence has now started because the people can see no changes taking place.
For politicians to participate and for politicians to ensure that there is a negotiated and a peaceful transition, it is important that the people are consulted and that the opposition participates in the consultations. Having elections where the rule of the majority is guaranteed is important. It is important that democracy takes precedence. It is important that President Mubarak understands that the people will no longer put up with the amount of pressure they had been under.
It is interesting to note that the military has the respect of the Egyptian people and has done nothing at the moment to the people. Hopefully that will not change. What we need to understand is that there are too many factors are at play. The Egyptian police are not liked by the people but the military, which is under the command of the president, is liked by the people. Those are some of the issues that people need to think through before giving advice.
Egypt is at a turning point. If it turns toward a continuation of military dominated leadership supported by the business elite, we will not have seen the end of the turmoil. Popular forces and the opposition cannot continue to be excluded from meaningful participation. One must hope that the transitional government will do the right thing and open up the political arena for full participation and an early and free election.
Yemen, Jordan and Tunisia have recently seen wide-scale protests and we hope that this regional disruption will not lead to greater tension in the Middle East.
President Mubarak said that he would not seek re-election but rejected demands to step down. That is a factor we must consider as we are giving guidance to the country. The 82-year-old Mubarak is a former air force commander and he wants to finish his presidential term which ends in September.
One of the factors that we need to consider as we are talking to them is: what are the permutations and combinations that the Egyptian people will settle for? More than 400 people have been wounded and one person has died in clashes with pro and anti-government demonstrations, which we saw in the streets of Cairo. The Coptic Christian community thinks that President Mubarak may not be the worst but that he is the best at the moment. It is very important that those factors be taken into consideration.
President Obama said that he spoke to President Mubarak who recognized that the status quo was not sustainable and that a change must take place. President Obama has also said that an orderly transition must be meaningful, peaceful and must begin now.
The leader of the Liberal Party has pointed out that Canadians are looking at these events. Egyptians are expressing a desire for democracy and openness, and have grievances and concerns that need to be addressed.
We hope President Mubarak will respond to these legitimate issues in a constructive spirit. No one wants the violence to escalate and we hope the Egyptian government, police and army, and those who are demonstrating will show an equal desire for peace and mutual respect.
Security and stability are legitimate human aspirations as well. We have heard from our foreign affairs critic. I hope that from this emergency debate the government will see an opportunity to take a balanced and intelligent approach to helping the Egyptian people realize their dreams.
Madam Speaker, over the past few days, the eyes of the world have focused on Liberation Square in the capital of Egypt. Events unfolding in Cairo could have a profound effect on the Middle East and the entire world.
Our government's priority is, of course, the safety of Canadians who are in Egypt. That is why we took swift action to organize an air evacuation of those who wanted to leave the region. These measures will be deployed as long as they are required. My colleague will describe in more detail the measures we have made available to Canadians.
This evening we are particularly disappointed and concerned that the protests that began with hope, order and enthusiasm are now fraught with violence, havoc and fear.
A few hours ago, live ammunition was used against Egyptian citizens. At least one person has been killed and many hundreds more have been wounded, some seriously.
Egypt, a nation of 80 million people with an ancient civilization, has long been a moderate leader of the Arab, African and Muslim worlds, and an important partner in the Middle East peace process, based on its long-standing peace treaty and co-operation on security matters with Israel. It is also home to the Suez Canal, a vital shipping route. What happens in Egypt therefore has major implications for other countries of the region, most especially Israel, for the world economy and for international security including the security of Canadians.
This morning I spoke to my Egyptian counterpart, foreign minister Aboul Gheit. Our deep and strong relationship with Egypt allows us to be frank with each other as friends should be. In our conversation this morning, I expressed Canada's concern about the situation in Egypt and our desire to see a peaceful and meaningful transition to democracy. I also reiterated the importance that Canada and the world place on the stability of Egypt and its region.
In discussions with my colleague, now and in the past, I have not hesitated to raise Canada's ongoing concerns with the situation of human rights in Egypt. We have urged Egypt to improve respect for human rights, in particular freedom of expression and freedom of association. We have raised concerns about the continuing application of Egypt's state of emergency, which is still in force after 30 years, and the use of torture and arbitrary detention by Egyptian security forces. We have also encouraged political reforms in order to promote democratic development and respect for the rule of law in Egypt, including the holding of free and fair parliamentary elections with international observers.
After the political opening of 2005, which saw the introduction of multi-candidate presidential and parliamentary elections in Egypt, the following years saw a marked setback on human rights and democratic development. Canada has expressed concern on several occasions in that regard. In particular, we conveyed our disappointment at the parliamentary elections in November and December 2010 that saw the ruling national democratic party win over 80% of the available seats and a loss of most of the opposition seats amidst allegations of massive vote fraud and low voter turnout. A lack of international observers surely contributed to the lack of credibility of the outcome.
These elections represented a setback for democratic reform and modernization in Egypt and a failure by its government to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people for a greater voice in the running of their government. There is no doubt that these decisions by the Egyptian government fed the frustration of the Egyptian people.
The results of the latest parliamentary elections, the absence of political reform and the slow pace of economic progress, the increase in the price of food, and the bleak future for youth led to the protests that began on January 25. There is no doubt that the example of Tunisia, where the people are experiencing the same frustrations, also inspired the Egyptian protests. However, the priority must now be to put an end to the violence, and I urge the Egyptian authorities to respond with restraint during these tense times.
We urge Egypt to respect freedom of association and freedom of movement for all political actors. There, however, have been disturbing reports of looting, as well as prison breakouts and we urge the Egyptian authorities to respond to these incidents and to safeguard the security and the property of all of the people in Egypt.
The large-scale protests in many parts of Egypt have demonstrated the desire of the Egyptian people for greater political freedom and economic reform. The people of Egypt are claiming what people all around the world want and what we as Canadians take for granted: freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law and the chance at a better life.
The demonstrators have also shown their commitment to bringing about political and economic reform through peaceful protest, not by taking up arms or by terrorism. They should be commended for peacefully expressing their views and their voices heard.
Other darker forces, however, are at work on Liberation Square and that is why calm and order must be restored as quickly as possible. We all know that the new social networking media, at the heart of popular movements around the world, is transforming the way societies everywhere communicate and share information.
It is increasingly important for people everywhere to be connected to the Internet, for the governments to permit access. We are, therefore, disturbed by interruptions to Internet services in Egypt and the blocking of social networking websites. This not only restricts access to information and communication by the people of Egypt, but it hampers emergency efforts to provide consular services to foreign nationals in Egypt.
We are also troubled by the forced closing of some news media. We call on the Egyptian government to ensure freedom of expression by unblocking websites and not interfering in the free dissemination of information.
We have noted President Mubarak's promise to leave office next September and the appointment of a vice-president, a new prime minister and a new council of ministers, who have been asked to undertake economic reforms. This new political team will be judged on its response to the legitimate demands of the Egyptian people.
However, more clearly needs to be done in order to address the long outstanding need of Egypt for real and meaningful political and economic reform. Putting on a coat of paint to cover the cracks in the wall will not satisfy the Egyptian people's demand for change.
The Government of Canada has long engaged Egypt and other governments in the region on the need to bring about reform. Democratic development is a priority of Canada's foreign policy. Democratic development advances Canada's interest because it offers the best chance for long-term stability, prosperity and the protection of human rights.
Canada is committed to strengthening civil society and democratic institutions and processes, including political parties and independent media, throughout the world so that people can have control over the decisions that affect their daily lives. With this same determination and hope, today, we are asking President Mubarak and the new Egyptian government to strengthen the foundations of democracy, dialogue and co-operation.
It is not up to Canada to decide who should govern tomorrow's Egypt. Today, the people of Egypt are telling us, in the most active and courageous way possible, that they finally want to choose leaders who will bring them prosperity, justice and safety. We do no hesitate to raise our voices, loudly and clearly, in this chamber to say that we hope that Egypt's future leaders will actively devote themselves to implementing reforms that will meet the needs and aspirations of the Egyptian people.
Canada wants to see a transition towards greater democracy and freedom in Egypt, with respect for human rights and the rule of law. There needs to be a clear timetable for a new parliamentary election with international observers.
The 2010 parliamentary election lacked credibility and deprived the people of Egypt of an elected and democratic opposition as a means of peaceful political expression and participation in the governing of their country. The current situation is, at least in part, a direct result of this failure to respect the democratic process.
A true democratic transition in Egypt will require institutional reforms. For example, it will require the establishment of a credible and non-partisan elections commission to run the elections, as we have here in Canada. Such an elections commission would oversee the preparations for an election, which should reflect international standards for transparency and integrity.
The international community will no doubt be willing to assist by providing election observers and technical assistance.
Egypt also needs to make constitutional reforms. These could include stronger guarantees for human rights, in particular, freedom of expression and freedom of association, coupled with the strengthening of the independence of the judiciary.
The state of emergency that Egypt has been living in for 30 years now, which has resulted in much injustice and inequality, must soon be lifted. As I was assured by the Egyptian minister of foreign affairs this morning, the rules governing the registration of presidential candidates are to be revised so that as many people as possible can run in the September election.
It would also be beneficial to set fixed terms for the president and vice-president.
However, an election must not be confused with democracy. Although a fair and equitable election process is certainly essential to building a democracy, only a stable and honest government can ensure the sustainability of democratic principles.
In order for us, here in Canada, to recognize and support the future Egyptian government, it must meet four basic conditions: first, it must respect freedom, democracy and human rights, particularly the rights of women; second, it must recognize the State of Israel; third, it must adhere to existing peace treaties; and fourth, it must respect international law.
Canada urges Egypt's government to heed the courageous voice of the Egyptian people, seize the moment and turn it into an opportunity for long overdue democratic and economic reform that will allow Egypt to maintain its place as a leader among Arab, African and Muslim states.
Mr. Speaker, my thoughts turn first to our constituents of Egyptian origin and to the immigrants, naturalized citizens and people of Egyptian descent who live in Quebec and Canada. Their days are filled with anxiety because violence has marked the events in Egypt since they began. And today it worsened as supporters of the Hosni Mubarak regime began to systematically attack protestors.
We cannot forget that the misfortunes of the Egyptian people, which are spurring the uprising we have been witnessing for over a week, go back much further than these last few weeks. For a number of decades, the Egyptian people have been living under regimes that are dedicated to making a small number of people rich and that are known for their authoritarianism and widespread violation of basic human rights. This is especially true of the current regime of President Hosni Mubarak.
The power of Mubarak's regime is usurped power. Everyone knows that Egypt's elections are rigged, to the point where during the latest election, the majority of the credible opponents decided not to run, in some instances in the first round and in many other cases in the second round, because they saw that the election had been completely rigged.
The Mubarak regime is also known for its ongoing violations of basic human rights: arbitrary detention, torture and censorship. Clearly, that could not last forever. After the Tunisian uprising that led to the fall of President Ben Ali, Egypt exploded. The protestors oppose the regime of Mubarak, a dictator who has ruled since 1981 and is now aging and ill. Hosni Mubarak had to go overseas for several weeks in 2010 for an operation, and with the approach of the 2011 presidential election, the question of his successor was on everyone's minds. Of course, those in power could not accept the possibility of losing that power and considered offering President Mubarak's son to the Egyptian people—imposing him, in fact. But now the anger in Egypt is no longer directed solely at the standard of living. It is also directed at those in power because the people recognize that abuse of power is largely to blame for the country's problems, be they economic or otherwise.
In recent months, tensions had risen in this country of 83 million people, triggered specifically by price increases and restrictions on basic commodities. Some 40% of the Egyptian people live on less than $2 a day. The unemployment rate among young people is especially high, as in Tunisia. Egypt's relative underdevelopment can be explained, at least in part, by a remarkably inadequate education system. According to the World Bank, in 2003, only 32% of young Egyptians had earned a bachelor's degree.
Egypt's national statistics office has calculated that 73,000 new university places will have to be created each year for the next 15 years just to maintain the graduation rates.
Half of the Egyptian population is under the age of 24, and this explosive demographic situation is having a serious impact on the country's economy. Furthermore, with 94.5% of the country covered by desert, understandably, population density in Egypt's populated areas is just about the highest in the world.
This is not the time or place to give a full chronology of all of the events in recent days, but I would like to go back to February 1, 2011, when, after a series of non-stop demonstrations, the army announced through a spokesperson that it agreed that the Egyptian people's demands were legitimate and said it would not use any force against the demonstrators. That was definitely a turning point. According to the media, at least 250,000 Egyptians marched on Liberation Square in Cairo, in the largest demonstration since the beginning of the revolt against President Mubarak's regime.
Yesterday Mubarak announced that he would not run again, but that he would remain in power until the presidential election in September 2011. However, a spokesperson for the Egyptian army asked Egyptians, particularly young people, to stop demonstrating. The spokesperson said that they had gotten their message across and that their demands had been heard.
But over the course of the day, we saw that they would not allow themselves to be discouraged by that kind of admonition. Unfortunately, Mubarak's supporters reacted violently today. Anti-Mubarak protesters committed very violent acts, and there are concerns that this new situation could radicalize the positions, although the army has called for an end to the protests. Reporters and cameramen—even some members of the Quebec media are there—who were covering the violence in the heart of the capital have been threatened themselves and have, of course, described a very tense climate. Agence France-Presse spoke of over 500 injured today in the protests, and there is some fear that that number will be even higher this evening.
The Bloc Québécois's position on the current situation in Egypt can be summed up as follows. First, the people of Egypt have spoken out against President Hosni Mubarak. Egyptians are calling for their president to step down. The trust is no longer there—if it ever was—between the people of Egypt and their government. President Mubarak is no longer the right person for the job. In light of all of this, we cannot simply say, like the Minister of Foreign Affairs said earlier, is that it is not our role to decide who should run Egypt. We cannot simply say that what is going on in Egypt is not our business. That kind of reasoning no longer works these days.
In recent decades, the Canadian government has broken that taboo several times. Members will recall the very positive role played by the Mulroney government in the fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa, for example. We cannot simply say that this has nothing to do with us and that it is up to them to decide.
The people in the streets of Egypt have spoken: they do not want the status quo. They want freedom.
We have seen thousands of Egyptians challenge the authoritarianism of their regime in recent weeks in order to claim their due rights and freedoms.
The Bloc Québécois will always stand behind those fighting for freedom. Freedom is a universal and inalienable right. Democracy and the rule of law are the natural expression of a free society.
We strongly condemn repression of peaceful demonstrations. We condemn the Internet censorship imposed by the government on the Egyptian people. The free circulation of information is a fundamental condition of democracy and liberty in a country. The Egyptian government must lift the censorship on the Internet sites it recently banned. Freedom of information is not negotiable.
Finally, we feel that a swift and peaceful transition to a democratic and free regime must be initiated quickly and peacefully.
For that reason, we believe Hosni Mubarak has to leave and, to get him to leave, democratic countries must join forces to put pressure on the Egyptian government. Since it was supported for so many decades, we think that an interim government and president should be appointed with the consent of the key parties. Then, free, multi-party, fair and transparent elections have to be held as soon as possible.
The Bloc Québécois defends the idea of freedom for all peoples, but it also defends the responsibilities that come with that freedom. The outcome of the political battle must not be a victory for extremists, who would, in turn, deny the Egyptian people the freedom and democracy to which they are entitled. We want to see an Egyptian government that restores the people's trust in their government and responds to the aspirations of the Egyptians.
In other words, any new government will have to ensure Egyptians' freedoms, religious freedom in particular since Christians in Egypt have suffered many humiliations and injustices these past decades.
That government will also have to ensure stability in the region by maintaining diplomatic relations with its neighbours and will have to recognize the State of Israel's right to exist. None of that can be achieved as long as the Egyptian people rightly feel that all their freedoms have been taken away.
In closing, Hosni Mubarak has to leave. We very easily stand behind the message the U.S. government sent him today, that the transition must begin immediately.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to debate the situation in Egypt. As we know, on January 25 things changed in Egypt, and we are still trying to understand the effects of that change. Clearly, things are changing by the minute.
On January 24, President Mubarak was in charge of Egypt. On January 25, the people of Egypt were in charge of Egypt. That continues today to be the dynamic. It is the people of Egypt who are charting the course for the future of that country.
It is up to us, as those who support democratic aspirations, to be declarative that we support the people who have the courage and decided to overthrow a regime in a peaceful manner, a president who has been a tyrant for over 30 years. However, it is of concern that it is done in a way that represents the best interests of the people of Egypt, which is being seen today, and whether the rest of the world will support the intentions of the people who have decided they want to change the power structure within the country.
It is important that we be declarative, that we take a position. Our party at the outset was very clear. We said a number of things, which I will enumerate. We said that the election in November 2010 should clearly be re-run. We said that the emergency laws should be lifted. We said that it was important that all legitimate political parties be recognized and candidates for the presidential election in September be recognized as well. We also said that it was important that Canada take a position.
Sadly, at the time, we initially heard the government say that it wanted everyone to remain calm on both sides. Clearly, it was not in tune with what was going on because at that moment only one party was engaged in violence, which consisted of the security forces of Egypt that were using water cannons and tear gas against the population. Frankly, we all were concerned that might escalate.
It was a little tone deaf, frankly, when the government said that it wanted both sides to remain calm when only one side was using violent means. Thankfully, things did calm down. We saw the people amass in what is known now by everyone as Liberation Square. There was an acquiescence by security forces and the military did not intervene or instigate any form of intimidation against the people, notwithstanding that the regime was establishing curfew laws and edicts.
It is with hope and some concern that we watch what is happening. Developments in Egypt today have deepened our concern and the concerns for the safety of the protestors. Let us be clear. President Mubarak's insistence to delay his departure from power, as we heard last night, has contributed to further violence and destabilization, as we saw today. It is clear that for the sake of his country and regional stability, he must bow to the demands of the Egyptian people and immediately relinquish the position of president.
That is why we, unequivocally, condemn the use of violence against the peaceful and democratic demands of the Egyptian people. The alleged involvement of the regime in organizing the crackdown is completely unacceptable.
What do Egyptian protestors want? What do the people want? The clear consensus among all protestors is they want an end to Hosni Mubarak's regime. We have heard the calls for an end to corruption, an end to the emergency laws that have ruled Egypt for the past three decades. We have heard calls for economic fairness, representative and transparent governance and the protection of rights and freedoms. It is time for political reforms in Egypt and, as Egyptians have made clear, further delay is not acceptable.
It is with great pride that I note that not only were protests being organized in Cairo, but also right in Canada. I want to single out a couple of young Canadians who, like young Egyptians, organized demonstrations in the nation's capital last Friday and just yesterday in front of the Egyptian embassy. There were a number of them, but three people in particular were responsible in Ottawa. They are Iman Ibrahim, Mahmoud Al-Riffai and Yasmine Faoud. These three young people were like the young people in Egypt who decided they would put aside their affairs and would take the challenge to organize people to call for reforms for democracy in Egypt. We should applaud that.
It needs to be understood. This is not just about young people getting involved in politics. This is about young people leading a movement. If we did not have young people deciding that they have had enough, that they want to see real change, we would not see the changes we have seen.
Yes, technologies helped with this and it was important that there were tools like Facebook and Twitter. However, that is not the story. The story is that young people decided they would take on the powers that be and would decide the future of their country. They should be applauded, they should be lauded and they should not be treated in a paternalistic way. They should be respected for what they have done. They are a model of leadership, not just for Egyptians but for Canadians and others around the world.
That is important to understand because there has been a lot of talk about who is behind the protests.
However, I have had daily reports on the ground from Egypt and by all accounts the protestors are representative of every part of Egyptian society. They are truly Egyptian. There has been a breathtaking explosion of political and social creativity, organizational experiments and debates among ordinary people on how to organize their lives.
Some have worried that democracy in Egypt might embolden extremists. They point to the existence of the Muslim brotherhood as the strongest opposition in Egypt. This is false. The Muslim Brotherhood is not leading these protests and is hardly represented in them. In a population of 83 million, it hardly commands more than a few hundred thousand members. In fact, some have argued that fear of an extremist backlash, promoted by the current regime, was the rationale for their existence, and that was to distract others away from what the government was doing.
However, Egypt is an important player in the region and in the world. There is no question that we want stability in the region. However, the present situation under the current regime is neither stable nor sustainable. To fear these peaceful protests is an offence to the people who have put their lives on the line for their rights and freedoms. It is not representative and open governments that lead to extremism; it is the exact opposite.
Who are the political players? Who composes the Egyptian opposition? How are they preparing for the transition of power?
Despite the 30 years of crackdown, Egypt has a diverse political opposition composed of traditional parties and newer ones. While it is unclear exactly what will happen next, the information I have received from people on the ground is that opposition parties are talking. They are working together to find a consensus.
At one point they even put together what was called the people's parliament that formed a committee to negotiate certain terms. These parties have been united in the demand for Mr. Mubarak to depart.
However, these parties are not representative of everyone. One of the things that is being debated right now is the notion of who should be the interim. Many have pointed to those political players who do not have a vested political interest in the future presidency. I hope that is where things go but, of course, it will be up to the Egyptian people to decide that.
It is important to look at our role as an international community. We must not forget that we have played a role in Egypt in the last 30 years. This regime did not sustain itself on its own. It was supported by countries throughout the west. For decades we have stood by Egyptians and many of us have stood by those who have been denied rights, the basic legitimate rights of freedom of expression and of political participation.
In fact, it was the west that played a significant role in propping up this regime. It is really important that we understand that, not to shame anyone but to be held accountable. For instance, in 2008, the last time the government reported on Canada's weapon exports, Egypt was our 23rd largest client at $1.8 million. Some of the exports in arms to Egypt at that time included smoothbore weapons with calibres of 20 millimetres, automatic weapons with a calibre of 12.7 millimetres, unmanned airborne vehicles, aero engines and aircraft equipment.
We are part of this but compared to the U.S., we are minor players. However, it is important to note that we were responsible and we were implicated in supporting the regime.
What should Canada do now? What I have heard from many people on the ground, in general, and particularly from Egyptian Canadians, was that our government's response needed to be clearer, stronger and less tepid.
I recall a proud moment just a couple of years ago when the green movement of Iran rose up against the dictator in that country. I remember well that all parties in the House debated and passed a motion to support the green movement. We were pretty declarative in the House that we wanted to see its rights and voice recognized and to see the regime that was in place replaced.
I think we need to put that into context when we seem to be rather careful about what should happen with Mr. Mubarak. I think we should be clearer about what should happen with him, in that he should be asked to move on.
We should be demanding that our government intervene in a positive way, that we add our voice to others to condemn the use of violence against protestors and that we use all of our diplomatic influence on the Egyptian authorities to start moving forward to seek out an interim situation in terms of leadership that will then lead to elections and to the rebuilding of democratic institutions in Egypt.
It goes without saying that what we do and how we do it matters. What we have heard from young people in Canada and in Cairo, from people who have had their rights denied for over 30 years, is that they do not need one strong man to come in to lead them. They do not need the rest of the world to dictate terms to them.
What they need is to understand that the old way is the wrong way. The old way of deciding to support a strong man and ensuring that those people within our interest are supported is something we reject. The decision to do things differently means supporting a pluralistic approach to our foreign policy by supporting a pluralistic framework within other countries because this is happening elsewhere in the region. That would mean that our government would not need to hide from statements on where we stand.
In the next days and weeks that follow, we are not sure what will happen. Canadians want to know what the government's intentions are in terms of support for the future of Egypt. We not only hope that we will support Egyptians in deciding their own fate and future but also that we will stand with them, not only now, but after they have decided who should lead them. We hope not to turn our back on them. We hope that in the future we will reject the notion of supporting the strong man and support the pluralistic composition that is Egypt; that we are seeing in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and throughout Egypt today.
Finally, I hope that our Parliament, our government, will be stronger in how it decides to declare its support and that we should not hide from our pride in supporting the people of Egypt.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the hon. member for , the Liberal critic for foreign affairs, who initiated this important debate in the House tonight, because the situation in Egypt has riveted many Canadians. They are following these events closely and it is helpful that we in the House provide perspective and some sense of where Canadians and Canadian legislators stand on the events that will surely change the face of at least one very important country.
I would like to take a different perspective on these events because I have just recently been appointed as with particular responsibility for consular services. It may be of interest to people following this debate if I talk about consular services. We saw in Egypt as the situation became more unstable that our government, through its consular services in Egypt ably assisted by personnel from other missions in the region, sprang into action to support and assist Canadians who wanted to get to a safe haven.
I am splitting my time with the member for .
To set the stage, Canadians should know that millions of other Canadians are abroad at any given time. Canadians live, work and study in other countries. Canadians actively travel to other countries.
What do Canadians need to know as they travel abroad and as we saw in recent days they can be caught up in unanticipated events? First, we recommend that Canadians who are travelling abroad consult the website. The Department of Foreign Affairs puts up a website named simply travel.gc.ca. This website gives advice about unexpected situations that Canadians might face in a particular country.
It also allows someone travelling abroad to register on a website called “registration of Canadians abroad”. Why should anyone do that? If a person goes missing or gets caught up in some violence and nobody knows where he or she is, it is very hard for our consular people to make contact and give assistance. In Egypt, we were able to call or attempt to call those who had registered even though communications were down and offer services to get people to a safe haven.
In the case of Egypt, we had about 6,500 Canadians, who were living, working, or travelling in Egypt. However, less than 1,400 were registered. Only a fraction of people register and it is very helpful if they do. Every minute of every day, the Department of Foreign Affairs receives two requests for assistance at some point in the consular service landscape.
In 2010, over one million Canadians received some form of assistance and in the last five years demand for consular assistance has actually increased by 32%. In budget 2008, we put more resources into these services to allow us to better support Canadians.
These funds were partly used for the construction of a new emergency watch and response centre. That was a new initiative. Also, my appointment and the addition of consular duties to this particular portfolio is a new and heightened emphasis on providing good consular services.
There are two main categories of consular services. One is prevention and education and one is assistance. Of course, we hope that knowledge is power and if people have the knowledge they need they will not need assistance. We try to provide people with information and advice as they travel in order to prepare them to handle emergencies that might arise.
Of course, people who decide to travel assume a certain risk. There are things we can do to prepare ourselves. One is to take note of the emergency consular telephone line. It is staffed 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. That number is 613-996-8885. Through the number of calls received from Egypt, this line somehow crashed. That helped us to realize we needed backup for the technology. We are going to be prepared for that kind of eventuality.
In the last few days we have received almost 14,000 calls on the emergency lines from people abroad wanting to know how to get assistance and perhaps get to safe havens, as well as families and friends in Canada wanting an update on what was available.
The website that I mentioned, travel.gc.ca, receives more than 12,000 visits a day. We know that some Canadians are beginning to use it. It gives reports of over 200 countries where Canadians might want to travel. It talks about the security situation in the country, it provides official travel warnings advising against travel and how to contact the nearest mission. It is a good website for people to consult and register with so the government knows how to reach people in case of emergency. We also have some other products to help educate Canadians, which can be found at Service Canada and other places.
We are proud of the consular services. I visited one of our consular operations overseas in January. One of the officers said something very interesting to me. He said, “We do not consider what we do, helping Canadians, to be a job. We consider it to be a calling”. They are very passionate about supporting Canadians and it was heartwarming.
We have a network of these services. They provide assistance to Canadians 24/7. We are always looking to do better and we want to support and help Canadians, some of whom face very distressing situations abroad, sometimes very unexpected ones.
The earthquake in Haiti and now the situation in Egypt are two fairly recent examples of what can happen when people are travelling and need to reach out to the services that are provided by the Canadian government to support and assist them. We encourage Canadians to be informed, as prepared as they can be and to be alert while they are travelling. That being said, I assure everyone that when Canadians require assistance abroad, as they have recently in Egypt, they will receive it from this government.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member for giving me a portion of her time.
In the past week, Canada and the world have witnessed an unprecedented level of political change and civil turmoil in Egypt. Today, to our sadness, we learned that the formerly peaceful demonstrations had turned violent, resulting in more than 400 injuries, some serious, and at least one death. We deeply regret the loss of life and our condolences go out to the family and friends of those injured in these violent clashes. The violence that has occurred is unacceptable.
The people of Egypt have spoken out and demanded profound political change. While hearing the change demanded by the Egyptian people, the world has an interest in ensuring Egypt remains stable and secure.
Egypt has been an important partner for Canada in particular, not just in our bilateral relationship, but also in the pursuit of our shared interest in peace, stability and security in the Middle East and beyond.
As the said yesterday:
|| Canada reiterates its support for the Egyptian people as they transition to new leadership and a promising future. As Egypt moves towards new leadership, we encourage all parties to work together to ensure an orderly transition toward a free and vibrant society in which all Egyptians are able to enjoy these rights and freedoms, not a transition that leads to violence, instability and extremism.
Egypt is at another crossroads in its long and vibrant history. The choices the Egyptian people and their government make in the coming days will be important for the country, the region, and the world. Egypt matters, and Canada is pushing for political and economic reforms that will allow Egypt to continue to play an increasingly positive and constructive role in the world. This global engagement means that the entire international community has an interest in ensuring that Egypt remains a stable and peaceful presence on the world stage, particularly in the Arab world where Egypt's positive influence has been perhaps most strongly felt.
From the onset of our bilateral relationship when Canada and Egypt opened embassies in Cairo and in Ottawa, our two countries have worked together in support of regional stability and prosperity. Egypt, a key Arab and African partner, has been a key factor to stability in the Middle East. A shared commitment to a just and comprehensive peace in the region is one of the core elements of Canada's bilateral relationship with Egypt.