Egypt: Written Questions from Bishop of Coventry

On March 19th 2014 the Bishop of Coventry, Rt Rev Christopher Cocksworth, received answers to two written questions about Egypt: on political and religious freedom in the country.

13.10 Bishop of CoventryThe Lord Bishop of Coventry: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the current state of political freedom in Egypt and of the prospects for free and fair Presidential elections later this year.

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): The January 2014 constitutional referendum was an important moment for millions of Egyptians who expressed their opinion through the ballot box. We welcome the fact that the new constitution includes better provisions for the protection of the rights of minorities, including Christians, and women. However, we are concerned by restrictions on freedom of expression for opposition groups and the press, both in the run-up to the referendum and since. We encourage Egypt’s interim authorities to ensure that Egypt’s democratic transition leads to free and fair presidential elections in a genuinely inclusive process. We are pleased to hear that the EU European External Action Service is discussing with Egyptian authorities its intention to send an Electoral Observation Mission to Egypt for the presidential elections.

The Lord Bishop of Coventry: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the state of freedom of religion and belief in Egypt following the removal of President Morsi from office in July 2013.

Baroness Warsi: Sectarian violence increased under President Morsi and has continued since. Amnesty report that 200 Christian-owned properties have been attacked and 43 churches burned down or damaged since July 2013. In September, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my Rt. Hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), made a statement in Parliament condemning the violence against Christian churches. Article 64 of the 2014 constitution states that freedom of belief is absolute. The key test will be how the constitution is implemented, as many articles require additional legislation. We have continued to raise the importance of respect for different religions and beliefs and the protection of religious minorities with the Egyptian authorities. The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, my Rt. Hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Mr Robertson), discussed the situation faced by Coptic Christians and implications of the new constitution in a meeting with Bishop Yulios during his visit to Cairo in December 2013. The Bishop was optimistic about the new Constitution provisions for religious minorities.