February 7

Egyptian Copts abandoned by Canberra

Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s call for change in the government of Egypt recalls a provincial Irish newspaper’s 1897 editorial, “We have previously warned the Tsar”.

The Kremlin must have trembled when they read the final sentence: “'The Skibbereen Eagle has its eye on the Tzar of Russia.”

The Egyptians are unlikely to take notice of the great powers, much less the Australian government.

 The Americans have been giving conflicting advice, with the views of their special representative being dismissed by the administration as ”personal views”. Until now the great powers were strongly supportive of the Mubarek regime.

…once a liberal, tolerant and  cosmopolitan society…


In any event, the Egyptians can thank the Americans, the Russians and the Muslim Brotherhood for supporting the army’s ending of Egypt as a liberal tolerant and cosmopolitan society.

Such a society is rare in the Arab world. Indeed few countries experience the quiet and peaceful transfer of power we saw in Australia in 2007. Even in some European countries, this can be accompanied by noisy and often violent and lengthy demonstrations.

…matter of real concern for Australia ….

Apart from gratuitous and unwelcome advice, the real issues for the Australian government are two. First, looking after the interests of Australian citizens in Egypt.

Second, there is one matter where the Australian Prime Minister could perform a real service relating to one of the core functions of the federal government, immigration. 

She could correct the inexplicable decision taken by the Rudd government to abandon that persecuted minority, the Copts, who have strong links to Australia through the local Coptic community here.


As we noted here (17/1), the Copts are original inhabitants of Egypt. Since the  Arab – Muslim invasion of the seventh century they have known discrimination and persecution, except for one period.


This began with the rise of the Muhammad Ali Dynasty, and firmed under the nineteenth century British occupation which was formalised in the First World War.


After the war the British offered Egypt independence provided they retained control over the Suez Canal.  When this proved unacceptable to the Egyptian leaders, the British ended the protectorate and declared Egyptian independence, while retaining the Canal Zone.


 Egypt adopted a constitution based indirectly on Britain’s, but in which The King took a more active role. Under this Egypt was a robust cosmopolitan parliamentary democracy.

The period from the later part of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth – the period relating to the emergence of the Egyptian constitutional monarchy – is today known as a golden age among the Copts.


The 1952 coup d'état in 1952 against King Farouk by General Naquib and Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser, supported by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, the Russian KGB and foolishly, the American CIA and the US administration.

President Eisenhower was later to regret this and his action against the Anglo-French intervention during the Suez Crisis.

The end of the constitutional monarchy signalled the end of liberal, cosmopolitan Egypt, as it has in other countries.

The republicans expelled the Jewish, Greek and other European communities and seized their real property without compensation. The assets of companies with any European, Jewish, or Christian involvement were also seized, again without compensation. Copts were deemed to be second class Egyptians. Egypt became a one party state.

…demonstration in Sydney…


A demonstration about their current plight was held by the Copts and their friends in Sydney on 19 January, but most Australians would not have known.

Unlike some smaller demonstrations, this went mainly unreported.   Some demonstrations even receive advance notice in sections of the media.

Paul Sheehan piece  in The Sydney Morning Herald on 24 January was an exception. Writing that Martin Place is  the symbolic centre, the point zero, of Australia's existence as a sophisticated economy, he said:-

“But last Wednesday it looked medieval. A forest of crucifixes sprouted among a sea of earnest faces that would look comfortable on ancient coins. The talk was of murder and persecution. The threat was real. Hyperbole was unnecessary.”

“Most at the rally were Coptic Orthodox Christians, the Egyptian branch of Christianity. They increasingly find common purpose with the expatriate communities of Assyrian Christians from Iraq and Maronite Christians from Lebanon. All three groups, who collectively number about 200,000, are heavily represented in western Sydney. All three are feeling the pressure of the religious cleansing of Christians in the Middle East.”

…immigrants and politics…


 [ Continued below ] 
The Rev Fred Nile has long complained that there seems little place in our refugee programme for Christians who are persecuted in Arab countries, and often cannot leave the country of persecution.

The Labor Party has been accused over the years of using immigration as electoral fodder. Dr Barry Jones seemed to concede this,  but then backtracked.

A former minister for immigration, the Hon. Chris Hurford suggested the then Prime Minister Mr. Keating overruled him when he wished to deny permanent residence and citizenship to the controversial cleric, Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly.In an opinion piece in the Australian on 2 November, 2006, Mr. Hurford wrote: 

 “There has been a retreat from interviewing toughly and with good judgment those from overseas who apply to come here; but we must choose only those who are assessed as likely to integrate well. Furthermore, we have retreated from sending home more readily those who do not make the grade before being given permanent residence. They and we would be better off if that tougher approach were reinstated.

“One of the reasons for the damaging retreat from applying the old toughness and good judgment has been the disgraceful outsourcing of so much of the administration to private-sector immigration agents. Since my day, this sadly has been adopted by Labor and Liberals alike. This policy is not only very unfair to poorer applicants, who cannot afford the large fees, but abandons so many of the necessary checks that need to be made to ensure that only people who are suitable come here”.

…Copts and immigration…

Paul Sheehan writes that the federal government is indifferent to Coptic refugees from Egypt.

 The Australian embassy in Cairo has long been a point of contention.

It is difficult for Egyptian Copts to immigrate to Australia or seek refugee status. The blocking agents include the Egyptian government, which discriminates against Christians as official policy, and the local embassy, which acts as a de facto extension of state discrimination against non-Muslims.

At the rally in Martin Place, Senator Fierravanti-Wells announced that a Coalition government would reintroduce a program for Coptic refugees from religious persecution in Egypt, a program discarded by the Rudd government.

The extraordinary point is that the Rudd government abandoned the programme given the size of the refugee programme, the increasing number of asylum seekers, the qualifications and skills of the Copts and the threats to property and life under which they live. 


….previous comments…


Tunis to Cairo

Copts and the Monarchy




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