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Thursday, 13 October 2011
Page: 11925


Ms ROWLAND (Greenway) (11:44): I rise to today to voice the concerns of the many Coptic Christians that live in my electorate of Greenway—and, indeed, of members of the community generally—and to condemn the atrocities being committed on the Coptic community in Egypt. I do not think anyone could not be appalled by the footage of citizens being attacked in an environment where there was so much hope for change and improvement to create a democratic society in Egypt. The January revolution saw many Egyptians of all faiths come out and risk their lives for change, freedom and peace. The reign of former President Hosni Mubarak was tyrannical for the vast majority of Egyptians. The Coptic community continually suffered due to the inability of the government to provide legitimate protection as well as enforcing the rule of law. It has even been reported that the former regime was involved in attacks against the Coptic minority, an issue on which I have received many representations from local residents. So the revolution was a period of hope for all Egyptians but, as my Coptic friends have told me, this sense of hope has unfortunately quickly diminished for those in the Coptic community. Earlier this week, a reported 24 people, mostly Coptic Christians, were killed in clashes with security forces, with more than 200 people injured in fighting that erupted during protests in Cairo. The horrifying footage of speeding army vehicles running down fleeing protesters is sickening and is not reflective of a free country. It is certainly not the result that the Coptic people or indeed the international community had anticipated.

This week's violence follows an increase in sectarian tensions and violence affecting Coptic Christians since the beginning of the year. During that period a number of attacks on Copts and Coptic churches have taken place, reportedly resulting in the deaths of hundreds of Copts. I condemn these attacks on religious institutions and citizens. The electorate of Greenway has a strong and proud Coptic community, who have expressed their deepest concerns over the current situation in Egypt. In the Blacktown Local Government Area alone there are an estimated 2,430 people who adhere to the Coptic Christian faith. Earlier this year I made representations to the foreign minister on behalf of a number of Greenway residents, including Mr Ahdy Hanna, who highlighted the degenerating situation in Egypt for the Coptic community. Last night my office was contacted by Mrs Eugenie Youssef of Lalor Park, who expressed the same concerns around the situation currently facing Copts in Egypt.

In August this year I had the privilege of officially opening the St Abanoub Youth Centre in Blacktown. At the opening Reverend Father Pavlos Hanna was present and he reaffirmed his commitment and responsibility for the Coptic people here in Australia and abroad. I share his desire for the protection and liberation of all people of Coptic faith. I understand the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship has expressed his own concern over the situation in Egypt and has encouraged Egyptian nationals in Australia affected by recent events in their home country to contact the Department of Immigration and Citizenship for assistance. I also recognise the encouraging words of the minister regarding providing visa assistance to those affected by the unrest in Egypt and that their cases would be treated sympathetically. I express my condolences to the families and friends of those killed or injured and echo the words of our Prime Minister and our foreign minister in calling for calm and for clear respect for religious freedoms, human rights and the rule of law in Egypt. If Egypt is to transition to a free and democratic country, as everyone has hoped, now more than ever is a critical time for peace and stability. I condemn the attacks on the Coptic people in Egypt. These acts of terror must cease immediately. The Egyptian authorities must guarantee the effective safety and protection of Copts and all other minorities in Egypt. I reaffirm my commitment to this cause of the Coptic Christian community in Egypt and abroad.