A brilliant ABC report on the current situation in Egypt
CLICK HERE to listen to the report or read below.
MARK COLVIN: As the Egyptian government moves to strengthen security around places of worship in the Australian Coptic Christian community fears are rising for friends and relatives overseas.
In particular there are concerns for the safety of women. One social worker says she fears Coptic women are now the targets of sectarian violence.
The Australian Coptic Bishop of Melbourne says he’s raised the safety of his community with the Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
The Egyptian ambassador says there is a “Coptic problem” in Egypt and the Copts have legitimate concerns.
Sarah Dingle reports.
SARAH DINGLE: The Coptic Orthodox Church is an ancient branch of Christianity which began in Egypt.
Instead of celebration Egypt’s recent revolution has caused rising anxiety amongst the Coptic community.
On the weekend a Coptic Church on the outskirts of Cairo was burned after Muslims attacked it, claiming a female convert to Islam was being held inside against her will. Twelve people were killed in the clash which followed.
The Coptic Bishop of Melbourne Bishop Suriel says Australia’s Coptic community has followed the weekend’s events with great concern.
ANBA SURIEL: I am getting hundreds of calls on a daily basis. They are very concerned for their brothers and sisters back home.
SARAH DINGLE: The Bishop says last weekend’s attack was carried out by hardline Salafi Muslims. He says he’s held high level talks with Australian Government ministers in recent weeks to express his concerns for his community in Egypt.
ANBA SURIEL: I’ve met with the Prime Minister Julia Gillard. I’ve met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs. I’ve met with the Minister of Immigration.
They’ve been good meetings. They understand the situation. They’ve made representations to the Egyptian authorities there. But is it enough? I think we need more.
SARAH DINGLE: Hanan Ghabour is a counsellor and welfare worker with the Coptic community in Sydney.
HANAN GHABOUR: Yesterday I was speaking to someone who served in the Church in Egypt and they were saying you know please pray for us, we’re in deep trouble. Every day we hear a girl or a woman has been kidnapped and it’s a daily occurrence now.
The women are the honour of the family. Kidnapping your women is akin to kidnapping and touching the honour of your family.
In Coptic marriage when a person commits adultery the marriage is broken. So when a woman gets raped if she tells her husband that she’s been raped there will be a huge split in the family.
SARAH DINGLE: The Egyptian ambassador in Australia Omar Metwally says Egypt’s revolution was remarkable but the country is still settling into its new reality. He says the rise of hardline elements is worrying and the weekend church burning was a sad development.
OMAR METWALLY: And of course I know that we have a Coptic problem inside Egypt. There are some causes for concern for the Copts and I could understand it, concerning buildings or churches or concerning some feelings that we are not getting the same rights for the Muslims when they’re applying for a job or for nominating in some positions. I’m sure that we will tackle this problem and we will solve all these problems.
SARAH DINGLE: Ambassador Metwally says 190 people have been arrested over the weekend’s attacks.
And what about concerns that Coptic women in Egypt have been abducted in recent months? Do you have any information on those claims?
OMAR METWALLY: No actually it’s not a matter of abduction. It’s a matter of, it’s a love story between the Muslim and the Christian ancestors. She wants to change the religion and this is a, inflames the situation every time it happens here. I mean it’s not a matter of abductions.
SARAH DINGLE: The Coptic Church will hold its annual synod in a month’s time in Cairo and will discuss issues of security.
MARK COLVIN: Sarah Dingle.