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 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
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
"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".