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Hague seeks safety of Copts

25 April 2014


Egyptian Easter: Coptic Christians reach out to Pope Tawadros II during an Easter Eve service at St Mark's Cathedral, in Cairo

Egyptian Easter: Coptic Christians reach out to Pope Tawadros II during an Easter Eve service at St Mark's Cathedral, in Cairo

THE Foreign Office is pressing the military-backed interim government in Egypt to take steps to ensure the safety of Christians and other minorities in the country.

The ongoing commitment was contained in the UK Government's recently published Human Rights and Democracy Report 2013. This reveals that 40 churches were burned and 23 damaged in an upsurge in Islamist violence against Coptic Christians during the year.

The report said that the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, had spoken out after these acts, and the Minister for the Middle East, Hugh Robertson discussed the situation faced by Coptic Christians with Bishop Yulios, an assistant to Pope Tawadros II, during his visit to Cairo in December.

Furthermore, the Senior Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi met Pope Francis and the Sheikh of al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayyeb, in the Egyptian capital in February, and discussed the issue of minorities.

The report said: "We continue to raise the importance of respect for religious beliefs and the protection of religious minorities, with the Egyptian authorities."

In July last year, after the military removed from power the Muslim Brotherhood-backed head of state, Mohammed Morsi, many thousands of his supporters established protest camps in Cairo. When the army and security services moved in to clear the protesters, about 1000 people were killed, increasing the hostility between the Brotherhood and the military, and re-emphasising the polarisation in Egyptian society.

Since last summer, while the interim government has continued to follow its declared roadmap to democracy, with a new constitution approved in a referendum in January this year, the authorities have also cracked down on dissent.

A new law, for example, restricts the right to protest without permission, and many thousands of people have been imprisoned without trial. The Foreign Office re-port concludes that "as a result of political upheaval, the human-rights situation deteriorated in 2013."

Mr Hague, in a foreign-policy speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet in London last week, asserted the need for Britain "to maintain our patient long-term support" for all countries in the Middle East and North Africa which have experienced political upheaval.

In particular, he singled out Syria, saying: "We have to do more to try to save lives in Syria, and overcome the lack of international political will and unity." He pointed out that only five countries, including the UK, accounted for more than 70 per cent of all the aid that had been pledged through the UN for Syria this year.

"Other countries have to do more," he said, "because this crisis will get worse, and the dangers to the region are growing every day." Britain has given more than $1 billion (about £600 million) in aid so far.

The Foreign Secretary said that it was "wrong for Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq to bear the burden without sufficient help, and it is our duty to support them".

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