Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The persecution of the Coptic Christians in Egypt is a complicated matter. As a matter of fact, it has historical and legal grounds. The Copts in Egypt face swelling problems, obliterating their identity, limiting their progress and welfare, and even threatening their existence. These problems include restrictions on their freedom of religion and the right to practise their religion, forced conversion to Islam, recurrence of attacks on their village communities and individuals, equality before the law, and political marginalization, discrimination in education and employment, as well as suppression of their culture. It has been noticed that under the authoritarian Egyptian regimes that have held power since 1952, the major trend for the Copts has been rejection and segregation.
I won't be able to cover all the restrictions and the massive attacks against the Copts, but I will give a few examples. Embedding Islam in Egypt's constitution as the state religion and the Sharia Islamic law as the main source of legislation in article 2 seems to have practically curbed if not outright negated some aspects of freedom, including freedom of religion, thought, and expression. Also, basing the state and its legal system on a particular religion seems to have negatively influenced the social environment, allowing the creation of different classes of citizenship and exasperating national discord between different faith communities and groups. It further undermines women's rights to equality with men.
I will give some examples. While article 40 of the Egyptian constitution stipulates that all citizens are equal before the law, and they have equal public rights and duties without discrimination on the basis of sex, etc., the Egyptian judiciary discriminates against the Christian divorcee whose spouse adopts Islam, mostly out of expediency to get a speedy divorce, by converting underage children born of the Christian couple to Islam. In addition, the children's custody is accorded to the converted parent. In contrast, if a Muslim parent converts to Christianity or leaves Islam and adopts no other religion, he or she must be divorced by law. In this case, too, the kids are placed under the custody of the Muslim parent. This situation creates a lot of problems and ends in massive attacks when such a thing happens.
In terms of equality before the law and the freedom of religion, practices belie both the text and the spirit of the constitution as well as international human rights laws. Furthermore, forced conversion of Christian minors when one of their parents converts to Islam is not only discriminatory, it is an attack on the rights of the child and on the foundation of the Christian family. It also presents, in this context, a serious violation of the collective rights of the Coptic Christian minority.
With respect to freedom of belief and the freedom to practise religious rights, which are formally accorded by article 46, Christians are faced with a maze of official discriminatory conditions when it comes to building, repairing, or renovating their churches, and sometimes their institutions. These conditions are administrative rules issued in 1936, and they have their roots in the famous historical restrictions known as “conditions of Umar”, which date back to more than 1,000 years ago.
All this creates a culture that the masses in the street cannot but follow. That's where the problem starts.
Of course, the conversion of non-Muslim natives to Islam has always been part of the Muslim state legal system. But today, after the revival of Islam in Egypt—which in fact began in the early years of the 20th century and has been emboldened over the past 30 years—forced conversion of members of the Coptic minority has been added to the list of violations.
One of the reports of the U.S. Human Rights Watch stated: “Pressure on Christians to convert to Islam...is sometimes accompanied by promises of jobs, promotions, wives and apartments.” Then it quotes a highly placed source in the Coptic Church as saying, “There are hundreds of these cases.”
In the same year, the London-based organization Jubilee issued another report related to this issue.
Another report, which is very important, was issued by the special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. He referred to an appeal by another rapporteur regarding information on Coptic women who had been reportedly kidnapped and sexually assaulted by known Muslim groups financed by Saudi Arabian sources. According to this report, victims were reportedly subjected to continuous threats and rape to force them to convert to Islam and live with a member of the group.
In November 2010 a report by Christian Solidarity International and the Coptic Foundation for Human Rights documented 25 cases of these alleged forced conversions to Islam.
Regardless of the government of Egypt's claims that no force or coercion was used in most of the cases of Coptic young women's disappearances, conversions to Islam, and marriages to Muslim men, the facts—official and non-official persistent discrimination, persecution, and intolerance propaganda against members of the Coptic minority, coupled with the legal inequality before the law and the bias and the cover-up of such cases by the police and other institutions—do not absolve the Egyptian regime and its agents of such multiple violations of minority rights in Egypt.
Regarding inequality before the law, I can mention a recent case that happened in upper Egypt, in the city of Qina, when a Copt who was the only governor appointed by the old regime of Mubarak was replaced by another one who happened to be a Copt. The Islamists took to the streets and stopped the movement of the train from the south to north and vice-versa until this appointed governor humiliatingly resigned.
The ruling of the Supreme Council, which runs the affairs of the country today, couldn't do anything against these groups. That doesn't look abnormal, though, when we know that no Copt has ever been employed in the presidential administration, the state intelligence apparatus, or as a police commissioner, city mayor, public university president or dean. The Copts in Egypt are excluded from all the high-ranking positions in Egypt.
Another important area that makes a schism, a division, between the majority and the minority is the parallel education system created in 1961. It is not permitted for any Copt to join or to enrol in this system of Al-Azhar University. All letters and sciences are in the curriculum, but the Copts are not allowed to enrol.
There are 500,000 students in this system, and thousands of them come from foreign countries to study for free in Egypt, while the Copts themselves are not allowed to enrol in these institutions. These institutions accept undergraduates who have a low level of achievement. They give them a better education separately from the public institutions where the Copts can join.
The Copts have a culture that is rooted in history, in millenniums. Their language was prevented from being used for centuries, in spite of many appeals to the government to create a chair for Coptic studies in one of the many universities in Cairo. Over the years we've been asking for that. This is also part of the Egyptian culture. There are layers in the Egyptian culture, but the Coptic culture is excluded from the history books and the rest of the culture of the country.
I come to the recurrence of escalation. Violence has been now taking a serious turn under the military rule, where we can see that such attacks coincided with the rise of Islam in the 1980s. Also, the pattern of recurrence confirmed that the political regime's manipulation of Islamic sentiments in the struggle against Islamists for legitimacy was a key factor. This is a very serious situation, because the Copts are in a crossfire with a regime that uses Islam to fight Muslim extremists, and the fight here is only for power. The Copts are paying the price, and it is very dangerous because it has gotten out of hand lately. And it brought the collapse of the undemocratic regime of Hosni Mubarak.
Good afternoon, Chairman. Thank you for the invitation. I am honoured to appear before the members of the subcommittee on human rights to give testimony concerning the plight of Copts in Egypt.
The situation in Egypt concerning Copts is a little bit complicated, and I would like to clarify a few things here. First of all, there is no change of regime. Since January 26, the regime of Mr. Mubarak has continued. Technically, many of the military were appointed by Mr. Mubarak 20 years ago and they served him. The military that at this moment rules the country is concerned about its own interests and protecting the old regime.
January 26 was a great event for Egypt. Unfortunately, based upon the culture that started back in 1952 that was co-opted by Mr. Nasser, followed by Sadat and then by Mubarak, they increased the teaching of Islam in Egypt. Mubarak used to play good guy and bad guy. When he came to the United States or Canada or visited western countries, he posed as a peacemaker while he was putting oil on the fire and killing Copts, using his regime's police fascist system.
The discrimination against Copts in Egypt is over 1,400 years long and started back in 651, when Muslims occupied Egypt. The situation now is worse. I'm not trying to make a comparison with Mr. Mubarak's regime. Mubarak was bad for Copts and also for people against his regime. But right now the country is running without any control or any law. The system is going to protect Mubarak. This comedy situation of bringing Mubark to trial is in bad taste. They are trying to tease the western countries by showing they have a new democratic system, but they do not.
At this moment, Copts are suffering more. I would like to explain what happened on October 9 against the peaceful demonstration of Copts that ended in killing, as reported in The New York Times, 56 Copts in Tahrir Square. If we look back, between January 26 and October 9, the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the Salafi Muslims demonstrated 15 to 20 times and the military never stood against them. It never oppressed them. It never attacked them.
The demonstration of October 9 was concerned with a church called St. George's, located in upper Egypt in a county called El-Marinab. This church, after various requests to be rebuilt—because there was danger for people who went there to pray—got authorization for rebuilding. But because of the doctrine of Islam that doesn't allow the rebuilding of a church once it is demolished or destroyed, they attacked the church.
The police stood there watching the attack against the church without moving a finger.
The Copts finally decided to protest, and ten days before they protested in Tahrir Square they were attacked by the police, and various protesters went to hospital. I believe three of them were killed by the police system.
On October 9 they moved from Chubra about 2.5 kilometres toward Tahrir with no problem at all. It was peaceful. They were singing Christian songs and carrying crosses. They were asking the actual regime to protect their right to worship whatever they believed in. But the Egyptian media started to charge the Muslims against the Christians, saying on the Egyptian TV and radio that they needed Muslims to go out to protect the army. Once the protesters reached Tahrir Square, armoured cars and tanks started to go against them with the intent to kill them.
I am in possession of various pictures of the tragedy that I refused to show to anybody. You can see people with their bodies cut in half. Whatever happened there at that time needs to go to the International Criminal Court against Mr. Tantawi. I hope, Mr. Chairman, you can bring this request to the Canadian government. We need Mr. Tantawi to stand in front of the ICC for what happened on October 9.
Copts in Egypt, like our friend Nabil, are still suffering from the invasion. They are still using the Umrani decree from the barbaric Bedouin law that does not allow Christians to have any rights. In fact, the word “dhimmi” that Muslims use a lot means a person who doesn't have any rights or responsibilities.
In 2011, I believe the world has to stand up and understand that there are more than 17 million Christians in Egypt suffering discrimination and persecution. The Muslim plan is to cleanse the Middle East of Christians.
In a couple of weeks Egypt will be holding an election. All the world believes that this will be a democratic election. I believe it will be another electoral fraud by Mr. Tantawi to keep his people in place to protect himself and his interests. In fact, at the beginning of this month there was a new article about the constitution explaining that the army is above any law. The army has to have all its financing and decisions, and no one, politically speaking--neither Egyptians nor the Egyptian Parliament--in the future can decide what the army will do.
A few things occurred after January 25. We see that there were various sharia courts in Egypt. They cut one of the ears off a Christian man, because rumour said he had a relationship with a Muslim lady. Another young man was thrown from a fourth-floor balcony for the same reason.
Finally, there was a 17-year-old kid named Nabil Labib. He was killed inside a school just because his Muslim teacher asked him to cover the tattooed cross on his right hand. Nabil refused to cover the cross. He was attacked by his teacher and other Muslim students. The only information that we have is that he ran to the bathroom and they followed him and after that they took him to the principal's office. Nobody tried to do anything. The ambulance arrived after one hour and took the dead body to the hospital.
Finally, just to indicate that the same regime of Mubarak is still working in Egypt, another Copt called Maikel Nabil, a blogger, wrote that he didn't accept the military regime ruling Egypt. He was taken into custody and on October 25 the current regime acted the same way as Mr. Mubarak and Sadat and Nasser. They took Maikel Nabil and they put him inside a psychiatric hospital.
What's going to happen in the future to the Christian Copts, God only knows. What I would like to ask you here is for the international community to be very active politically, economically, and maybe militarily against the Egyptian regime, and to protect not only the Copts there but also the other people who are against the regime, the secular people who are suffering.
There must also be control of the aid that Canada, the United States, and European countries send to Egypt, because a lot of this aid is going in directions other than where it was directed to go.
Lastly, I would like to ask the chairman about two ways of controlling immigration by western countries such as the United States and Canada. The first one is to generate a law to help Copts who would like to escape from Egypt for their safety. It also means the other side of this law has to be controlling who from the Muslim community is coming, so that we don't open our doors to those who come to our western countries with another intent, not to work and to find a better life, but to come here to force Islamization and sharia law in the west.
I don't know if I still have time, but I sense that I am out of time. I don't want to take advantage of anybody.
Mr. Ramelah, thank you for joining us today. We really appreciate it.
One of the things I'd like to say is that in Canada we have 1.2 million Muslims. If you look at Canadian papers, you rarely see any of them having any difficulty. There have been concerns about whether some want to bring sharia law to Canada. By far the majority of those I've spoken to within my own community don't want it.
There are over 30 million non-Muslims in the rest of Canada, so I'm not overly concerned about a sudden change here. Having said that, we are very aware of the discrimination that happens in Egypt, Iraq, and Iran against Christians, particularly those in the Coptic Church.
I want to go to your commentary. You talked about one lad having an ear cut off. Under sharia law, if you commit adultery, and it's proven, you're executed. When you talked about the lad being thrown off the balcony for a similar offence and the student who was murdered, that sounds more to me like the vigilante action of people, as opposed to the actual application of sharia law. Would that be the case?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It's quite an extraordinary situation that the Copts find themselves in. If they want any rights, they're bribed to convert. If they don't convert, then they're subject to persecution, violence, restrictions on the capability of having a job.... The list is really endless.
It would seem to me that one of the things that people who are mindful—certainly this nation—should watch is how the Coptic community in Egypt is treated. That would give us a good barometer of exactly how democracy is taking hold in any shape or form, considering the kind of long, systemic persecution of the Coptic Church—as one of our witnesses said, 1,400 years of discrimination.
I would like to have one piece of information clarified. I believe one of the witnesses, Mr. Ramelah, mentioned that in the incident of October 9, there were 56 Copts killed. In our briefing notes, I have 27. Is that correct that you said 56 were killed? And was it 300 who were injured?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Sweet effectively asked the question that I asked. I may try to just recast it.
I want to thank Mr. Nabil Malek for being here. I've known him and worked with him for a long time. Also, I want to thank Mr. Ashraf Ramelah, with whom I appeared on a panel last week on minorities in the Middle East.
As I was listening to both of your witnesses' testimonies, I was thinking back to the initial hope of the Tahrir revolution, to the initial promise of the Egyptian spring. At the time, if we remember, Christians and Muslims stood together in common cause, where the army was looked to as the protector of the people, where this time the pain and plight of the Coptic Christians, as dramatized by the most recent events of October 9, appeared as a betrayal of the promise of the Egyptian spring. The army has emerged not so much as the protector of the Copts, but as Ayman Nour, an Egyptian political leader, recently put it, there's no longer a partnership between them now that the blood flows between them.
My first question: Has the Christian Coptic community lost trust in the army, lost faith in the Tahrir revolution?
Secondly, should there be an independent investigation by the UN Human Rights Council, for example, of the events of October 9--indeed, of the plight of the Coptic community? Would you recommend that Canada call upon the UN Human Rights Council for that purpose?
So those are my two questions.
Thank you for the question. I will try to answer parts of this question, because it's a very large one.
If you looked at the press conference of the military council about three days after the massacre, they said they didn't know who the culprits were. The military council itself claimed they didn't know who fired on the Copts.
Let me tell you, I was in Egypt in May, and I am not living here mentally. I was prosecuted because I was defending the Copts and the national unity in 1977, before my immigration. I understand the regime very well, and let me tell you openly and frankly, this is a racist regime.
I accused this regime in my prosecution before the judges in Egypt that it is a racist regime, and we were going to take it to account, whether Canada does something or not. But it is an obligation on Canada to do something, because if they don't, Canada will be overwhelmed, swamped by immigration from Egypt. There will be an influx of immigration that will happen, suffering by the Copts.
Even if the election does something fancy, it will not...unless we have drastic political change in that regime and empowerment of the Copts inside Egypt to work with the secularists to support a secularist state down the road.
It is a long way off, but the Copts are very optimistic; they are not pessimistic. I sent a video, and the Copts are parading on the streets and ready to shed their blood in thousands to get their rights. And they're not going back. Their fear is finished. The blood they saw on the streets.... I cannot control myself because of the scenes we have seen. Please go to the YouTube on the Internet to see these shocking scenes.
The army can say anything and they call it denial—the policy of denial. I have tons of information here by scholars from Britain that I will leave with the committee.
We have a big problem, not only for Copts but for the western democracies. Please do something. Otherwise the whole Middle East.... Egypt is collapsing. It is not just an attack here or there; it is more than that.
The Maspero massacre is part of a bigger image. Again, it is not the Copts alone, it is the revolution, and to halt the revolution the military council had to hit the Coptic minority hard to scare the majority. It is a very, very complicated issue.
Please, it is not just the Copts; it is the whole Egyptian history coming down now. Of course the Copts are paying a higher price because they are in the crossfire between Islamists and the interests of the regime. The regime is using Islam not for the love of Islam; everywhere in the Middle East they are using religion for legitimacy. But it doesn't work this way.
You can hear from the high military council that there are articles everywhere. The Egyptians lost confidence in the military council months ago, even before the massacre, because it failed in many ways. The council has its own interest. It's blinded by its own interest. The council is exactly like what happened to Mubarak. They were blinded by their own interest, and that's why they got in trouble. They deceived the most, and it seems like it's going to happen again.