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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 777

Mr SIMPKINS (1:06 PM) —I welcome this opportunity to speak on this motion. I thank Father Abdelmalek of the church of St Mark and St George in Wanneroo for his assistance and guidance. It is certainly the case that sharia law in any form has no place in a modern society. It is a leftover of mediaeval days. The only laws of the modern age are laws passed by a democratically elected government of the people. This motion is about the vicious and cowardly attack on the Coptic Orthodox church of St Paul and St Peter on New Year’s Day at 12.20 am. This motion is about the murder of 24 innocent and peace-loving worshippers who were targeted by Islamic extremists following months of incitement by Islamic scholars who were allowed to air their hatred on television and evilly inspire murder in their vicious protests against the Coptic Church and Coptic Pope, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III.

The events of the last four months were sadly not isolated events. There has been an orchestrated campaign of persecution and violent against the church and its followers for many years. It is always the way that corrupt government and increasingly irrelevant ideologies seek to shore up their positions by identifying scapegoats on which they can lay the blame for a multitude of political, economic and even religious failures. Egypt is exactly such an example. On 12 February I attended the Coptic Orthodox Church’s ecumenical prayer service at the Roman Catholic cathedral in Perth, St Mary’s. It was on the day that the President of Egypt finally stood down, and it would be true to say that the church held some hope for a better future in Egypt. Tragically, I do not see much cause to be hopeful of a better future. I understand that article 2 of the Egyptian constitution will remain in the new constitution, and it reads: ‘Islam is the religion of the state and Arabic is its official language. The principles of Islamic law are the principal source of legislation.’ And herein is the problem.

I believe that a change to this article is fundamental to any reform and to safeguarding rights and freedom of religious worship. But such a change seems to be out of the question now, because it seems that the Muslim Brotherhood have hijacked the revolution and that they will see that Egypt remains an Islamic state, based on Islamic sharia law and dominated by a Sunni Muslim government. I cannot see a better future ahead for Egypt, because the fundamental changes, the reforms and the democracy necessary remain elusive. I attended that prayer service on 12 February, a day of such hope for the future, but just four days later, on the 16th, the church of St George in Rafah was attacked, being torched and graffitied with sayings such as ‘No to Christians in Muslim land’. On the next day, the 17th, Muslims attacked Christians inside the church of St Georges in the village of el-Hathatah. It has been reported that the attack was prompted by the church building a roof over the courtyard between the church and its community services building, within the fenced church compound, in order to make more space for the congregation. Muslims surrounded the church and hurled stones. The armed forces were called out but without response—another example of security forces failing to do their duty and to protect all their citizens equally.

Nothing has really changed since President Mubarak left office. Religious persecution and intolerance remain institutionalised in Egypt. We have seen it in the constitution. We have seen it in the actions, or rather the inactions, of security forces. We also see it in the form of Egyptian identity cards that require the holder’s religion to be printed on them. The lack of action in identifying and prosecuting those who incite violence and those who commit violence against the Copts is evidence of the real need for fundamental change.

There are more than 10 million Copts in Egypt—10 million out of around 80 million, as much as 18 per cent. That is no small number, no tiny group. It is a huge number of people who are crying out for their rights as citizens to be protected and for fundamental change that will revolutionise the laws, institutions and behaviours of authorities in Egypt. This motion is about expressing our condolences regarding the brutality and the violence, but it is also about expressing our condemnation of those acts and the persecution that continues every day in Egypt. I condemn those responsible for orchestrating and committing those atrocities. I condemn them for their genocide and their spiritual corruption that encourages attacks on the defenceless, but I believe that those who stand and do nothing are also worthy of my condemnation.

Everyone has a right to their own religious faith, but no-one has the right to impose their own faith on others or to persecute those who do not follow the same faith. I will finish by quoting a speech from 12 February 2011 by the Coptic Orthodox priest in Perth, Father Abraam Abdelmalek. He said of Australian politicians: ‘Australians have elected you to protect this country and its culture, not to please or fear certain groups of people who have a loud voice and want to demolish our Christian heritage.’ I think that is a lesson that we should heed.