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Thursday, 24 February 2011
Page: 1461

Mr ANDREWS (9:36 AM) —The peaceful democratic movement in Egypt has seen regime change, and will hopefully see the ushering in of a new era in that country’s history. As the country moves towards democracy, as we hope it will, it is important that religious tolerance be at the fore of the construction of a harmonious and unified state. Under the previous regime the Christian population in Egypt, estimated at some 15 per cent of the 80-odd million Egyptians, faced unprecedented discrimination and persecution. It was clear that, despite constitutional assurance of religious freedom, Copts were treated unfairly, were discriminated against and were at times targeted in what can only be condemned as disgraceful acts of religious hate crimes, and law enforcement was reluctant to act where violence was being promulgated against Christians. Copts were not able to repair their churches; they were not able to raise funds for their churches. Converts to Christianity were, under the brutal regime of Hosni Mubarak, unable to alter their national identity cards, although there was no such obstacle for converts to Islam.

The military junta that is now in control of the Egyptian state pending democratic elections demonstrated their loyalty to the people of Egypt during the recent crisis. The military are respected by the people and did the right thing by the people of Egypt. They must now demonstrate that they are truly committed to affording liberty, freedom and protection to all Egyptians.

My electorate of Menzies, in Melbourne’s outer-eastern suburbs, boasts a large and very proud Copt community. It is a close-knit community with the church at its centre. Bishop Suriel and his team at the Donvale Coptic Orthodox Church oversee a comprehensive parish program and community support services, something they are in the process of expanding at the present time.

Copts have long been persecuted by Islamist jihadi radicals. I have long expressed concern in this place about the treatment of Copts in Egypt. With the end of the Mubarak regime, I join with the Coptic community in calling on the current military leadership to bring immediate change to Egypt and to afford true freedom and true protection, including religious freedom, to the Copts of that country.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—I think all honourable members would associate themselves with the comments of the member for Menzies.