ASSOCIATION DES COPTES D’EUROPE

15 Avenue du Bel Air

75012 PARIS - FRANCE

Tel 33 1 30 37 06 29

copteseuro@wanadoo.fr

 

 

WHAT CAN THE COPTS EXPECT FROM THE EUROPEAN UNION ?

 

Protection of the Coptic “minority“ in Egypt comes under the sphere of competence of two areas of the EU : the CFSP , Common Foreign and Security Policy,  in a general way, and the Mediterranean Policy, more specifically.

In neither of these areas, can the EU seen to have any marked favourable activity toward the Copts. Why? This short memorandum intends to analyse the reasons why, without hiding behind a reality dressed by as “realism“.

 

Copts and CFSP

Within the framework of CFSP which has been developed over ten years, the Union has set very broad objectives, including the safeguard of common values, the development of fundamental freedoms, through the respect of human rights, and a rule of law state and democracy. But EU actions in these areas have been both isolated and limited.

 

Concerning minorities, the EU deals mostly with those residing normally  within its territory, where problems are minor ; so,  if Egyptian Copts refugee in France were victims of discrimination, on French soil, then the EU would probably intervene. The EU is interested, and often very closely, in the minorities living in the states which are candidates, or likely to be candidate, to European adhesion ; this is the case for Magyars, Roms, Gypsies and Tziganes in Central Europe, Kosovars, or Bosnians in the Balkans, and even Kurds in Turkey. The question  of  religious minorities is at the most, followed to keep a clear conscience (as in the case of Tibetans), as these problems fall mainly within the competence  of the United Nations.

 

Considering its reluctance to assume its “Christian inheritance“, we can understand  the EU’s shiness in discussing discriminations involving Christians in Eastern Europe, Middle East or African countries. The probable adhesion of Turkey to European Union makes UE even more prudent in its attitude toward Islam.

We must not forget that the protection of religious or other minorities is only one aspect of European or national diplomacy. So sympathy for the slaughtered Chechens must be weighed against the interest of profitable relations with Russia ; the  imprisonment of Catholics who do not belong to the Chinese Patriotic Church or followers of gymnastic Buddhist Fa Lun gong sect never aroused any revolt among the European authorities : China is such a promising partner… The flood of Assyro-Chaldeans to Sarcelles (a suburb town close to Paris), forced to flee by the Turks, the treatment of Kurds and other Arabs in Iraq, did not raise any interest, on the contrary, their respective fates do not “weigh“ much when compared to other diplomatic considerations.

So, little attention was paid to the treatment of  Egyptian Copts ; it is  just one minor element in  relations with Egypt, and not widely known.

 

Copts and the EU’s Mediterranean policy

For  geographic reasons, Mediterranean countries are among of those benefiting from “privileged“ relations with the EU, as due, but for different reasons, developing countries or  Eastern European countries which  have not yet been admitted to the group of “ 25“. Of course, considering the priority orientations of European institutions, those privileges fall mainly within customs and commercial domains. As early as 1977, Egypt was favoured by such an agreement.

Then appeared the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements, more ambitious since they also provided a “Political Dialogue at regular intervals“ ; in 1995, Tunisia and Israel were the first partners, soon followed by Morocco, the Palestinian Authority  and Jordanian, with other states, including Egypt destined to follow.

 

But the first list is quite significant: Tunisia is far from being a paragon of democracy, the President is elected without any risk, and journalists belonging to opposition or human rights defenders are very often imprisoned. As regards Israel, making it a model of protection of minorities is quite improper. And yet, the European /Israeli agreement insisted on the necessity of founding peace (with the Palestinians), rejecting terrorism and respecting democracy. Ten years on, the results are not very conclusive.

 

The Euro-Mediterranean Agreements have been the instrument of a more global policy, initiated in 1992, which should lead to a “Euro-Mediterranean Partnership “defined by the Barcelona Conference (so, the name of “Barcelona Protocol“, as it is sometimes called). But, that partnership is solely commercial, even if its goal for 2010 is a free trade area in a communal zone of peace and stability. In 1995, a first conference included the then 15 European and the 12 Mediterranean countries, including Egypt; that conference was followed by others, always with a commercial goal. In 2000, the poor results obtained had to be acknowledged.  The adhesion of 10 new members, with which the EU is now concerned, will not speed up the realisation of this costly partnership.

 

And what about human rights? Several times, the European Parliament intervened, without any power of decision (which probably explains why) mostly in cases concerning North Africa, terrorism and the Palestinian electoral process.

 

Considering the priority given to commercial matters and to respecting the sovereignty of “friendly“ states, as in the case of Egypt, and added to that the reluctance to act in favour of Christians, no actions are to be expected in favour of the Egyptian Copts, in whatever form : neither spectacular – even oral –  ones nor less conspicuous, but more effective ones.

 

The abductions of young Copt girls is, of course, quite unfortunate, but in France we are so ashamed of legislating on forced marriages imposed on young Moslem girls that it would not be proper to intervene on behalf of Egyptian authorities. The EU, as an institution, would not accept to return to the “Capitulations“ era, when it was in charge of protecting Christians against abuses of the Ottoman Empire. However, according to the Agreement of Barcelona Protocol, the EU (and probably its Parliament) could insist that the respect of minorities and the equality among citizens belonging to any religion must be expressly and systematically mentioned, not as a simple clause, but as a condition of that “Peace and Stability Zone“.

 

Of course, Egypt will claim that it is the case, and probably no European government would be courageous enough to contradict it. But, if such measures could be clearly included, it could be used by a Monitoring Committee receiving complaints of any violations of commitments and transmitting them to the European institutions, as did the committees born from the 1995 Helsinki Agreements.

 

Meanwhile, and in a more practical way, through well documented and regular information directed to European Deputies likely to be interested in these questions, and by services of the Union’s future Minister of Foreign Affairs, Copts could maintain a pressure of sorts on the Egyptian authorities and remind us that religious discrimination is the rule for Eastern/Oriental Christians.

Help and possible collaboration of other communities suffering similar violations of international conventions would constitute a significant reinforcement.

 

 

17 avril 2005