UK govt meets with British Copts to discuss Cathedral violence

Amer Sultan in London, Monday 22 Apr 2013

Middle East Minister Alistair Burt meets with Coptic leaders who urged him to put pressure on Egypt's government to stop 'violence against Copts'

(Photo: Amer Sultan)

The British government and leaders within the Coptic Orthodox community in London met to discuss the recent sectarian violence in Egypt, Ahram Online has learned.

According to a Coptic activist who attended the meeting, the discussion focused on “the escalation of attacks on Copts in Egypt.”

“We have been promised that the issue will be raised [by the British] with the Egyptian government,” the activist said.

Father Antonious Thabet, the pastor of the St. Mark's Coptic Church in London, led a delegation which met with Alistair Burt, the British Middle East Minister, on 11 April at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

St. Mark’s Church is the oldest Coptic church in Europe. It established a number of churches in the UK including the church of Stevenage, which is now the biggest the Coptic church in the United Kingdom.

Father Antonious confirmed his attendance, adding that such meeting is important.

“We are doing what we have to do to help stop the violence against Copts in Egypt,” he told Ahram Online.

But he refused to comment on whether the Coptic delegation had called on the UK to put pressure on the Egyptian government over the sectarian violence in Egypt.  

He added that Egyptian Copts “are seeking help from God only.”

Dr. Ibrahim Habib, head of the United Copts of Great Britain, attended the meeting and confirmed that the UK minister has been asked to “put more pressure on the Egyptian government.”

“However, we stressed that we are asking for more active diplomatic pressure on Egypt, not military intervention,” Habib told Ahram Online.

“We do not support or agree with the appeals from other Coptic activists in the West for international protection for Copts in Egypt,” he added. 

The FCO confirmed the meeting took place. A spokesman refused to give details of the discussions, but confirmed that “they discussed a range of issues including the recent attack on the Coptic Cathedral in Egypt.”

 The spokesman described the meeting as “a part of a regular dialogue.”

On 8 April, Burt issued a statement strongly condemning the violent clashes that occurred outside Cairo’s St Mark's Coptic Cathedral on 7 April, and stressing “the importance of freedom of religion and belief in Egypt’s political transition.”  

On 20 April, United Copts of Great Britain, UK Copts and United Action for Egyptian Christians staged a demo in front of the UK parliament, protesting against “human rights violations, particularly against Christians, in Egypt.”

The organisers accused the Egyptian authorities of “the persecution of liberal and religious minorities” and of “being responsible for the attack against the Cairo Cathedral.”

They asked the British government to “stop supporting the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt.”

The protesters called on the UK parliament to send a delegation to Egypt to discuss the human rights violations. 

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