First of all, I would like to thank all of you for having me here. It's always a pleasure to see all of you again.
Today I will be discussing with you the human rights situation in Egypt and Iraq. I will also touch briefly on the situation of minorities in Iran.
Let's start with Egypt. After the so-called Arab Spring--and I have no idea who started calling it Arab Spring--the world very slowly but surely started to discover that Arab Spring is nothing but a cold deadly winter for the minorities. The situation in Egypt, especially for the Christian minority and the rest of the minorities, is that, as we speak, since the start of the Egyptian revolution on January 25, we have seen and our sources have monitored 12 major attacks against the Christian community in Egypt. When I say 12 major incidents, that doesn't mean that is all the incidents there have been. Our resources indicate that there have been over 36 attacks, but the 12 major attacks were those that were big enough to make it into the media, into the news.
One of the major attacks I will be discussing today was that on a peaceful demonstration on October 9, 2011, which is known as the massacre of Maspero. Before I speak about the massacre of Maspero and what's happened in Maspero, I want to backtrack a little bit.
On September 30 in Aswan province, 20 imams in the mosques around Christian areas made a violent call to attack the Christians there. Three thousand Muslim extremists attacked the Christian villages and towns in the province of Aswan. That happened September 30. After these attacks the Christians were upset, so they came out in a peaceful demonstration on October 9. I just want to be clear that it was a peaceful demonstration on October 9. The Egyptian army faced the demonstrators with live ammunition, and with armed cars drove over the people, killing them. These pictures show some of the footage of the victims of Maspero.
I want to warn all of you that some of the pictures are very graphic, so if you don't have the heart for it don't look at them.
After this attack, over 27 Christians were killed in these peaceful demonstrations. Over 300 were injured. Some of the injured couldn't go to another hospital because the hospitals in the area rejected them, except one hospital, the Coptic hospital. This is the truth and the reality. The police attacked the Coptic hospital after that and arrested some of the injured out of that hospital. This is only one of the major attacks.
To mark the 40-day anniversary of the Maspero massacre, the Christians again went on a peaceful demonstration. They were attacked again in Shoubra and in Cairo. That was to mark the 40-day anniversary of the Maspero attack.
On October 16, 2011, after the Maspero attack, a 17-year-old student by the name of Ayman Nabil Labib was wearing a cross. His teacher requested that he remove the cross. When he refused to remove the cross, the teacher and the students attacked him. They beat him to death. That happened as well after the Maspero attack on October 16.
Some of these incidents you will find in our Egyptian report that will be given to you, and I'm sure it's being translated right now into French as well.
When we speak about Iraq and the situation in Iraq, two months ago I visited Iraq. I visited Baghdad. I was accompanied by one MP, , of Vancouver. I was accompanied as well, as part of my delegation, by Senator Don Meredith, and I was accompanied by Mr. Robiah Elias from the Iraqi community, and Martin Himel, from the Canadian media.
Two months ago I visited the Iraqi capital and I had a meeting with the high officials in Iraq, such as the Deputy Prime Minister, the Vice-President of Iraq, the President of the Iraqi Parliament, the Iraqi Minister of Human Rights. I will say that if there is a minister of human rights in any country, that means they have no human rights at all, and they are using the minister more or less to cover up the situation there. As well, we met with the environment minister of Iraq.
When we speak about the minority in Iraq, let's start with the Christians. More than half of the Christian Iraqi community were forced to leave their country or were killed. Here we are facing the beginning of a genocide. This is not simply regular ethnic cleansing; this is the beginning of a genocide in Iraq.
We visited one of the churches, Our Lady of Salvation. As an example, last October five terrorists entered Our Lady of Salvation Church. They attacked the church and killed over 54 Christian worshippers, including the priest.
Mr. Chair, I have here with me some of the bullets that were taken from the church and from the victims. Some of them still have the blood of the innocents on them.
Ladies and gentlemen, for four hours the terrorists were killing the Christians without any interference from the Iraqi police--for four complete hours. After that, when the Iraqi police entered the church, they did not aid the people or help the people. They immediately started to collect the money and the gold from the victims, instead of helping them. This happened in Iraq last October.
It is not only the Christians in Iraq who are facing persecution, it is also the Sabians and the Mandaeans. More than 90% of the Sabians and the Mandaeans were killed in Iraq. The population of the Sabians and the Mandaeans in Iraq was about 50,000 to 60,000 in the year 2003. In the year 2010, the population was between 3,500 and 7,000.
As well, besides this, you find the Yazidi, and they are facing persecution in Iraq. Of course, in the Baha'i community in Iraq and in Egypt there are a total of 2,000 people in each country. Their dilemma is that they are facing persecution. They cannot have any identification cards, so they are not recognized by their governments in Egypt or Iraq. That means they cannot get married. They cannot divorce. They cannot bury their dead. They cannot buy properties. And that's what we are facing
The solution.... We can read the report that was prepared by One Free World International. And once again, we have two reports, one about Egypt and one about Iraq, both of them in the English language. They were sent to the clerk. I think that some of it is still in translation. If any of you want these copies in English, I already have them. I assume that they are being translated into French as of now.
There are many solutions to this dilemma that we're facing, such as confronting this government in the international fora, such as supporting the refugees and opening Canadian doors for immigration to welcome these refugees in the camps, such as encouraging on the ground of Iraq and Egypt the programs that are protecting women's rights and the minority rights. But the recommendation I want to focus on the most right now is tying our aid and our international trade to the improvement of human rights in these countries. I'm not saying cut it. I'm saying tie the aid and the international trade to the improvement of human rights in these countries. What I mean by that is if a country has disrespected the minority or women's rights, we can use the aid and the international trade to increase it or decrease it. It depends on how they are respecting these rights.
For example, there is over $2 billion of international trade between Canada and Iraq--over $2 billion. Between the years 2003 and 2010 the Canadian government has given $300 million in aid to Iraq. I have no record of where they spent the $300 million. I tried to go on the Department of Foreign Affairs website. I tried to go everywhere. I don't know where the $300 million was spent in Iraq.
Even in Egypt, the aid to Egypt is around $18 million and there is over $900 million in international trade between Canada and Egypt. I have no record as well of where the $18 million went.
Lawrence Cannon used to be our foreign affairs minister. He went to Egypt and spoke about Canada wanting to give $11 million in the next five years to encourage the revolution in Egypt. With all due respect, I don't know how he can encourage a government that is killing the innocent.
In the year 2009 this was the first time that the Egyptian government attacked the Christians straight on, head on. Usually they will use extremist groups. They will use extremist groups and they will hide behind it. But for the first time, actually, the Egyptian army attacked the Christian community head on just because they went on a peaceful demonstration.
We have to connect our aid and our international trade today to the improvement of human rights in these countries. Once we do this there will be improvement, because these governments want the money. I don't believe in giving any government a blank cheque. With all due respect, this is the Canadian people's money. This is not the Canadian government's money; this is the Canadian people's money. I don't think we should give them any of this aid, any of this international trade, until we see an improvement in human rights, and it should be connected with this.
In closing, I thank you for the opportunity. I will take your questions and answers.
Mr. Chair, if you can give me the closing two minutes, I would appreciate that. Thank you.
The expectation was freedom, freedom of religion. Mr. Sweet, we are not here to speak against Muslims; we are here because of the persecution of the Christian minorities. I am here because I'm against the extremists, wherever they are.
When the revolution started on January 25, the Christian community stood side by side with the Muslim community fighting the dictator regime, and the expectation was that our rights would be protected and we'd be able to live with freedom of religion. You cannot build democracy without freedom of religion. Freedom of religion is the foundation of democracy. Without it, there is no democracy; it's as simple as that. The reality here is that if you took their faith from men or women, they'd have nothing remaining to believe in.
When the uprising started, everybody called it—especially the media in the west, and I believe the Americans started it—Arab Spring. What Arab Spring? What Arab Spring? The reality is that when you take out a dictatorship like Mubarak—and I am completely agreeing with taking out Mubarak as a leader, because he was a dictator and he committed many crimes against humanity—you create a political vacuum. The political vacuum can only be occupied by the most organized group there. Sadly, the most organized group there, besides the army, is the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization. I need to make it clear that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization.
When you have a society like the Egyptian society, 30% to 40% of the Egyptian society is illiterate. They don't know how to write or read their own name, so how do they read a constitution? Even if you reform the constitution, how do they read it? They don't know how to write or read their own name.
So democracy cannot be built between day and night. Democracy has to be step by step.
The reality on the ground right now is that an organization like the Muslim Brotherhood is using this political vacuum to start to control the country. I am sorry to say, Mr. Sweet, that on February 6 Lawrence Cannon, our former Minister of Foreign Affairs, welcomed a talk between the Egyptian government and the Muslim Brotherhood. This was on the record of CTV on February 6. This was a press conference that he did, and he welcomed talks between the Egyptian government and the Muslim Brotherhood as an opposition.
The Muslim Brotherhood is the foundation of al-Qaeda and the foundation of Hamas. Basically, their doctrine has built this other organization that we see here today. A Muslim Brotherhood leader today indicated that they will never accept a Christian president or a woman president. Where is the human right? Where is the human right in dealing with a group like this, who disagree with a woman leader or a Christian leader?
The truth and the reality is that democracy without education dies. Education is the oxygen for democracy. What we are seeing today is not an Arab Spring; it's a cold, deadly winter.
Thank you, sir.
It's good to see you again, Reverend El Shafie. You've always been an excellent witness before this committee, enlightening us as to what's happening around the world. I appreciate your testimony today.
I just wanted to draw your attention and the attention of those who are listening to the statement by our , John Baird, after what transpired in Egypt. In part, he said, representing the Government of Canada, that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right and a vital building block for healthy democracies, that people of faith must be able to practise and worship in peace and security, and that religious extremism has no place in modern society and in the new Egypt.
Speaking of the new Egypt, there was a witness before the foreign affairs committee about a month ago, who chose to remain unnamed, who made the following statement, and I quote:
||I'm not too sure we can describe what's happening in the Arab world as the Arab Spring. I would call it Islam Spring. And we have to pay attention to that, because spreading from Tunisia, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia, and all around that area, they're all adopting sharia law.
You have a history or a background as a native Egyptian. Sharia law has been promoted within Egypt more recently as a future constitutional amendment. We've heard testimony before our committee recently about that. I'm just wondering if you could enlighten us as to what impact, if it were to be adopted, that would have on religious freedom in Egypt.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I'm pleased that reference was made to what occurred in Iraq in 1941, the Farhud massacre. It is now the 70th anniversary of it, and it has gone largely unacknowledged, so I'm pleased that reference was made to it.
The question I want to put has to do with a particular individual who emerged as a kind of symbol of the Egyptian Arab Spring. I'm referring to Michael Nabil, a 26-year-old blogger who spoke so hopefully about the Egyptian Arab Spring in Tahrir Square, in his statement in which he mentions that the army and the people are “of one hand”; in other words, the army and the people are working together. He then witnessed the suppression by the army of civilians and protesters and the like and then said that the army and the people are no longer of one hand.
For that he was illegally tried, convicted, and sentenced to a three-year imprisonment. As we are meeting here today, he is in the 91st day of a hunger strike. His life is hanging by a thread.
Do you regard his case as a symbol of the failure of the Egyptian Arab Spring? Also, do you believe that the fact that he happens to be a Christian Copt who supported the normalization of relations between Israel and Egypt contributed in any way to his conviction and imprisonment, in this situation in which he finds himself today?
In my Egyptian report you will find more examples of attacks. Some are examples of major attacks, and some of them are small attacks. But let's speak about examples that are happening. Some of them are actually from here in Toronto, and we needed to prove them.
One of the gentlemen, by the name of Magdi Youssef, had a library and he had a Muslim worker in the library. Somehow, the Muslim worker got hold of a book about Christianity and started to read it. His family thought that Magdi Youssel had tried to convert the gentleman, and he had not. His shop was burned, he was poisoned, the authorities arrested him, and he was tortured. He escaped to Canada, and after that, the case.... You will find his story on CTV, because we took his story from there.
To live daily in fear or with day-by-day harassment.... You will be able to identify most of the Christians in Egypt, because there is a tattooed cross on their hands, or they are wearing a cross. Even the national identity card of Egypt has to say whether you are Muslim or Christian. So it's easy to monitor them, easy to know who is who. When this harassment happens, it can affect their job, their daily life.... It can affect many things.
Are we talking about Iran?
One of the major things that happened when we were in Iraq and we confronted the Iraqi government.... As I said, I was accompanied by one MP and one senator, both of them from the Conservative Party. I sent an invitation to the Liberals and the NDP to accompany us as well.
When we discussed the matter with the Iraqi regime and confronted them with all of this evidence—and we had a recommendation to the Iraqi government and we raised all the subjects we are speaking about right now.... I am not the kind of human rights activist who is in hiding; I will be right in your face and tell you: here are the facts. We sat down with them, and they said that these facts are true. They admitted it. The vice-president of Iraq admitted that this situation is happening.
The problem with the Iraqi regime is that they will blame the old regime for these attacks, or will blame Syria and Saudi Arabia. But when it comes to Iran, they wouldn't speak about Iran, because most of them....
Now, I know for a fact, madam, and I cannot indicate where my sources are, that before they appoint an Iraqi minister, Iran has to approve it first.
The sad reality that we are facing right now is that if we do not interfere immediately, if Canada.... One of our recommendations is that Canada reopen our Canadian embassy in Baghdad. We have no embassy; we have no voice in Iraq. If Canada does not open the embassy in Iraq and unless more countries interfere, Iran will take Iraq.
Iran already has a strong influence in Iraq, and Jaysh al-Mahdi, which is loyal to Iran, is one of the major organizations persecuting the Christians today.
Here is the problem with Iran. When we are speaking about Iran, 99% of the time we are speaking about their nuclear program. We do not speak about their human rights record that much, and I don't know why.
In Iran right now, more than 120 Christians were arrested in a crackdown over Christmas and New Year's 2010-2011. More than 200 were arrested in January 2010 and February 2011.
One of the more highlighted situations is that of Pastor Youcef, the pastor who is right now facing the death penalty in Iran.
When we talk about other minorities, such as the Bahá'í in Iran, on October 11 seven teachers were attacked and arrested in Iran. In August 2004, 500 Bahá'ís were arrested; 13 Bahá'ís in February 2010; 200 were killed from the Bahá'í leadership, mostly through execution, from 1978 through to 1998.
Here, when we talk about the Jewish community in Iran as well, you may remember that in 2000, 13 members of the Jewish community were arrested in Iran on charges that they were cooperators with Israel and Mossad.
So I don't think new sanctions will change dramatically the situation in Iran; however, I support sanctions because they are keeping them under pressure.
Mr. Chair, respected members of Parliament, I thank you so much for having me here. Since 2006 I have been coming here and I've developed a wonderful relationship and friendship with most of you, if not all of you.
Today I want to tell you that sometimes I get discouraged. Sometimes I wonder if, despite my coming here and presenting evidence, we ever will see results on the ground. I have confidence and trust in our country, Canada. I have confidence and trust in our system. I believe Canada is the conscience of our world and defender of human rights. Canada can take a step forward and lead, be a voice for the voiceless, as has always been.
If you look behind me, those people who came all the way from Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, and some even further, some of them from the Egyptian community, some of them from the Iraqi community, some of them from a Canadian community—these people care about what's happening there. Our people are dying. I wake up every morning and I don't know if I'm doing enough or not.
Just two days ago I testified in front of the American Congress. The House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights held a hearing on the religious freedom issue. It was chaired by Chris Smith. I almost cried because I didn't see anybody moving to help those people. We're just leaving them behind, and they are my brothers and sisters in the Lord. It's the reality, whoever they are.
I used to be one of them. I used to be a prisoner in Egypt, and I know the pain. Even now I wake up in the night with the screaming in my ears of the victims. Even now when I take off my jacket you can see the scars on my body. I am unable to leave them behind and I'm begging you to take action. This is not the time for diplomacy, this is not the time for talk; this is the time for action. It's time to go back to our ministers, our governments, or our opposition and tell them to push a little bit. Tell them to bring the ambassador here so that we can talk with him. Tell them to connect aid with international trade and improvement of human rights. There are many recommendations. We are not just pointing fingers; we have a direction.
In the end, the only thing that I know from all my years of work is that there are people of faith facing persecution, but they're still smiling. They are in a deep dark night, but they still have the candle of hope. Our enemy has a very strong army, strong weapons, but we have the Lord Almighty. Believe me when I tell you that after every night there is a new morning and a new day, after every storm there is sunshine, and after every persecution there is victory in His name. Believe me when I tell you they can always kill the dreamer but no one can kill the dream. I will keep coming until the end, and I know that I will win.