14th May, 2011
STEFAN J. BOS
A Christian member of the European Parliament has urged the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, to make more rights for Egyptian Christians, also known as Copts, a policy priority and to develop an EU strategy for religious freedom.
Peter van Dalen of the Dutch ChristenUnie, or 'ChristianUnion' party, told BosNewsLife he made his appeal after meeting some 60 Copts in the European Parliament. "They cried for help," the parliamentarian said about the February talks.
"The position of Copts must become a top priority in your policy (because) their systematic discrimination must stop."
- Peter van Dalen
Copts claim they suffer discrimination and violence. At least a dozen people died over the weekend in the latest attacks by Islamists against Copts, who comprise about 10 per cent of Egypt's mainly Muslim population, according to officials and Christians.
"It's time for action. That's why I have (made) two proposals to Madam Ashton" this week, explained Mr Van Dalen. He told her that "The position of Copts must become a top priority in your policy (because) their systematic discrimination must stop. (Secondly) the European Parliament on January 20 requested an EU strategy for religious freedom and permanent monitoring of that policy. How will this be realised?"
Ms Ashton stressed earlier that she took the reports of persecution seriously, saying she has "underlined the need for all religious groups around the world to be able to gather and worship freely," during visits to the Middle East. "I also stressed that the EU condemns all forms of intolerance and violence against persons because of their religion or belief, wherever it takes place."
Mr Van Dalen suggested however that more concrete European action is needed as "The position of Christians worsens worldwide." He expressed especially concern about what he called a "new big threat" towards Christians in the Middle East.
"There is a structural neglect and discrimination of Christians in several Islamic countries." He noted that more than half of Iraq's Christian population of at least 800,000 people have left the country, amid ongoing violence. "In Egypt we see a similar situation with attacks against Copts, many daily cases of bullying and forced marriages while building new churches is almost impossible," Mr Van Dalen added.
He said the EU must help those "who are persecuted for their faith." This week the EU celebrates the 50th birthday of the concept that led to the 27 nation union.