Jun 14, 2017

Ongoing Persecution of Coptic Christians Speech – 14 June 2017

Tonight I want to speak about a special community in my electorate, a community who, over the past years, have endured many tribulations and been forced to helplessly watch the persecution of those of their faith in Egypt. That community is the Coptic Christian community from Egypt.

If you ever wanted to see a structure that embodies its community and its positive impact and effect on our landscape, you need only look at the magnificent St Mina and St Marina Coptic Orthodox Church in Hallam. It is a landmark building which can be seen by all travelling on the Princess Highway. Often I gaze across the highway at night and admire its magnificent towers and steeples, adorned as they are by the crosses on top. The Coptic community established their church in Hallam in 1993, when there was nothing more on the land than a cattle shed. As the community has grown, so has this place of worship. From that cattle shed to this now imposing spiritual centre and community hub, this church offers the Coptic community and its followers a sense of faith, hope and renewal.

I wish to commend the outstanding leadership of this wonderful community and church by His Grace Bishop Suriel, the Bishop of Melbourne, Canberra, Tasmania, Western Australia and New Zealand. This man has dedicated his life to the Coptic community. He leads his people in good times and bad. And I am afraid to say that there have been many dark days for the Coptic community in this country.

I have spoken in this place on numerous occasions about the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt. This ancient Christian community has, for over 1,000 years, suffered persecution under different rulers in Egypt. As approximately 10 per cent of the population of 91 million people, the situation of the Coptic Christians in Egypt has always been precarious, as they are an ancient Christian minority in the epicentre of the Muslim world.

But what I want to raise again in this House tonight is the more recent persecution of those in the Coptic community. For example, on 1 January 2011, 22 people died after a suicide bomber set off a massive explosion as hundreds of Coptic Christians celebrated a New Year’s Eve service in the Church of the Two Saints in Alexandria. Several congregation members who were killed in this murderous atrocity had relatives in Australia. In October 2011, following the burning of a Coptic church in Upper Egypt, security forces clashed with Christian protesters and 28 people, mostly Copts, were killed. In 2013 Muslim extremists laid siege to Egypt’s main Coptic cathedral in Cairo. This assault followed a funeral for five men who died days earlier in Khusus, a town north of Cairo, in clashes with militants. Muslim extremists also carried out a despicable and cowardly mass murder and beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya, on 15 February 2015, by ISIL affiliated terrorists. The majority of the victims came from poor villages and went to Libya to work as labourers to send money to families back at home.

On 11 December 2016 an ISIS suicide bombing at St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo killed at least 25 people and wounded 49. At least seven Coptic Christians in North Sinai, the stronghold of Egypt’s ISIS affiliate, were killed in the following months, prompting the majority of Coptic residents in al-Arish, the area’s biggest town, to flee to mainland Egypt. On 19 February 2017, in a video that was published, ISIL claimed responsibility for the Cairo cathedral bombing and threatened further attacks on Christians, accusing them of being ‘the spearhead of the crusader project to fight God’s religion in Egypt’. On Friday, 26 May 2017 at least 28 people were killed and 23 others were injured in Egypt after unidentified gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying Coptic Christians, many children, who were traveling to a monastery. On 9 April 2017, their Palm Sunday, at least 45 people were killed in separate suicide bombings, whilst many more were injured. According to the Interior Ministry, Pope Tawadros II, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, was inside St Mark’s Church but was not harmed.

As you can see, there are a litany of terrorist attacks on the Coptic community in Egypt. As I said, it is an ancient community. It is a community that has suffered much over the years. But I wanted to reaffirm to the Coptic Christian community, particularly the Coptic Christian community that I represent in my constituency, that those attacks do not go uncondemned in this place. The community has the support of those in this place, and we will continue to lobby to keep these people safe. And for those seeking to flee persecution, who are on our shores, we will continue to represent you and to encourage the government to look at the cases currently before them and hopefully encourage the government to reach a good decision in recognising the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt.


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