On Saturday, October 15, Montrealers gathered in Phillips Square with signs to speak out against the treatment of Coptic Christians in Egypt and to show their solidarity with them. The Montreal branch of the Canadian Coptic Association (CCA) organized Saturday’s demonstration and subsequent march.
Copts are an ethno-religious group in Egypt commonly identified as Christians, though there is debate as to whom the term actually refers.
Nader Shahid, a member of the CCA, spoke about why the demonstration was organized.
“We initiated the march today for the recent incident that happened in Egypt, crushing and running over Christians marching peacefully in Egypt, using military vehicles,” he said.
On October 9 in Cairo, thousands of Coptic Christians peacefully demonstrated against the attack on a church in the southern city of Aswan. In response to the demonstration, more than 1,000 members of the Egyptian security forces were deployed. At least 24 deaths and hundreds of injuries were reported.
The CCA released a statement in a communique about the demonstration.
“The Copts who peacefully demonstrated last Sunday in Cairo, against those who burned a church, were submitted – at the hands of the Egyptian army’s forces – to a massacre of incredible savagery,” the statement read in French.
The statement continued, noting the daily nature of violent acts against Copts, stating that Copt victims “do not have confidence anymore in the Egyptian authorities.”
Shahid explained the plan for the demonstration as speakers addressed the crowd of about fifty people.
“We’re going to go around the downtown area and we’re going to finish in front of the Egyptian consulate to deliver our message of our anger of what’s happening,” he said.
Demonstrator Marsa Abdelmalak emigrated from Egypt one month ago. She noted the habitual nature of violence against Christians and churches.
“We are truly here today because they are in the middle of killing Christians in Egypt. I just arrived one month ago and the situation is very difficult over there. Life is supportable. They come to attack the churches, they attack Christians everywhere,” she said in French.
“One month, I saw all of it with my eyes. I left my country because of that. There is not any more security,” she added.
Shahid spoke to solidarity between Copts in Egypt and those in the diaspora.
“We left Egypt and we’re living here as Canadian citizens but we show solidarity with our people over there,” he said.
“They are so oppressed over there, plus the recent incident shows cruelty and rudeness of how to treat them and not providing them equal human rights.”
Shahid also noted that since the January 25 revolution, the Coptic situation has continued to be “overlooked.”
There are a reported 7 million Copts within Egypt’s total population of 82 million. Shahid estimated that the actual number of Copts is higher.
“But I would say for the counting reasons and the discrimination [the numbers] might be a little bit more,” he said.
A young demonstrator, Lisa, explained her feelings about recent killings in Egypt.
“They are killing us in Egypt. They want us to stop talking and not open our mouths and saying our prayers,” she said. “I’m afraid for them because they are afraid to go in the street even.”
In their communique, the CCA in Montreal stated their demand for “the presence of an international committee to oversee that Copts have been subjected and continue to be subjected to violence. This is an obligation of the countries of the free world, to respect human rights.”
—with files from Laurent Bastien Corbeil