Bishop Angaelos - General Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Church UK HARDtalk


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Bishop Angaelos - General Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Church UK

Stephen Sackur speaks to Bishop Angaelos, the General Bishop of the Coptic Church in the UK, and asks if Christians have any future in the Middle East.


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Welcome to HARDtalk. I'm Stephen Sackur. In just a few days, Pope

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Francis will fly to Egypt to offer his personal support to Egypt's

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Coptic Christians. He will find a community filled with apprehension,

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targeted by jihadist extremists, and subject to persistent discrimination

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and sectarian violence. Elsewhere in the Middle East, in Syria and Iraq,

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the plight of Christians is even worse. My guest today is the General

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Bishop of the cup that church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos. Do Christians

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have any future at all in the Middle East? -- one.

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Bishop Angaelos, welcome to HARDtalk Do you think there is something

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substantively different about the nature of the threat faced by Coptic

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Christians in Egypt to date? Because they have faced threats for many

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years. Yes. We have faced threats for centuries, particularly over the

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past decades, but to have suicide bombers in churches is a shift, and

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it looks like the mirroring of attacks in other parts of the world.

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And think that is why it has shocked the Egyptian community so much

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generally, Christians and Muslims. We have not seen this level of

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aggression and violence. We have had attacks, which have been equally

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painful, but this does mark a very new chapter. And does that mean,

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since we saw the suicide bomber tax onto churches, a cathedral in

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Alexandra, and the Church in the Tanta region, does that mean that

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Christian communities have to think more carefully than they have before

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about self protection? Of course. We saw heightened security around

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churches in the lead up to it celebrations. The community is

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resilient. It is strong. It is very faithful and forgiving. -- Easter

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celebrations. But it has to be more careful. I have said in the past

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week that what is ironic is that these churches were bombed and

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attacked when they were full. That was only two months after the

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bombing in Cairo. So it hasn't dissuaded people from going to

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church. You talk about resilience, and I appreciate that those churches

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are still being felt, but there are signs that the Egyptian Coptic are

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scared in a new way. I am thinking about what we have seen in northern

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Sinai. -- Copts are. People have been saying that they are going to

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come after Christians, that they will kill you. We saw some doubts,

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but we saw many fleeing. Leaving the committee altogether. Do you believe

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that is an inevitable response? -- leaving the community. At the time,

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and that was the correct response, because they had been undergoing a

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tax for weeks leading up to that. But at that point, they realise they

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had no more sustainable presents there. So they moved to surrounding

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dioceses, that absorb them. I don't think I would use the word fear. I

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don't think I have heard any of our church leadership or community use

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the word fear, but they are concerned. And they have every right

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to protect their families. And they did that in this instance by

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leaving. But they remain targeted, because they cannot all become

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displaced. And interesting phrase used by one of your colleagues, he

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said you can now consider yourselves to be living through a wave of

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persecution. Is this an era of outright and sustained persecution,

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in your view? I think we have lived a history of persecution throughout

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our presence in Egypt. And it has intensified at various times. In our

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contemporary history, ever since the presence of the former president,

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said that, when Islamist were given a greater range, and they started

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you divide up the committee now way. -- Saddat. Christians became more

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visible and a bigger target. It is a fault line, isn't it? I'm looking at

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the analysis of experts in England is in Egypt. He says the intent here

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is to make a separation between Christian and Muslims, and to start

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a outright division between the two. Can they succeed? -- Christians.

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They have not so far. Whether it was after the bombing in Cairo, or these

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bombings, Egypt is very different to the rest of the Middle East. There

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is not a tribal presence there. It is much more homogenous. In actual

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fact, what we see after every one of these attacks is a greater support

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from the greater Muslim community, because they see themselves in the

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community as targeted as well. So does not make us more marginalised.

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People have come out to support us. The outpouring of support and

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shocked that we have seen in the community, both in Egypt and

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globally, as a result, is a tell-tale sign. To that extent, you

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strike me as an optimist. You could do it around, and talk about how the

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state, represented by President al-Sisi and the machinery of the

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state, does still not take the basic structural measures to ensure that

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the long-term discrimination against Coptic Christians in Egypt is

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addressed. There is the short term, the three-month emergency, and the

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specific new law about church construction, but many Copts say

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what is taught in schools, what about the horrible extremism that

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comes from some mosques, why are these things not address? We have

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seen it addressed in the past few months. I figure will take a

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generation. This sort of thought process has infiltrated the

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educational system. The general society, too, so much that it needs

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to be replaced by something else. So the correctly have to change. -- the

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curricular Bell curricula. Christians it is he themselves as

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part of that, living alongside Muslims. I've seen that myself

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reporting to HARDtalk in Upper Egypt. -- reporting for. All the way

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down to south, you still find many communities where Christians do feel

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that their security is constantly under threat. And the government

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knows it but still does not seem to do much about it. That has been the

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weak point. At the national level, I think we have hearing very

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legitimate and sincere promises from the President and the government,

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from the national security services, but when one comes down to the local

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level, to the villages, to the districts, where there is a sense of

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impunity, because crimes go unreported, sometimes, because they

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realise that there is not there to be an investigation. There might be

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no reprise or conviction will stop so therefore, there is a ratcheting

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up, and intensification of the kind of attack, and becomes more deadly

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everytime. Any questionnaires at local level, municipal level,

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regional, the national level, how many Coptic Christians are in

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positions of real authority? Say in the judiciary or in government. You

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are a Copt with great knowledge of the country. Can you say your

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community is represented in the machinery of government and justice?

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Absolutely not. That has been the problem over the past decades. There

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is most definitely a glass ceiling will stop and it is not because

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there are not enough Christians or they are not intelligent or

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specialise enough, because what we see is the leading the public sector

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and go to the private sector, and very successful. And that in itself

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create a greater resentment, because they are being seen as successful.

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So think is part of the overall solution, in a sense of citizenship,

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there needs to be greater representation and the understanding

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that Christians can be productive, sincere, faithful members of a

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community, and the people who can work side by side with Muslims. But

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Bishop, is not one of the problem is that you and other senior leaders in

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the church, including the current Pope, but also Pope Shenouda, who

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you work for the past. You as a group at the top of the church has a

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year upon year have been in the pocket of Egypt's rulers. And I am

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thinking of Mubarek and now our city. You celebrated when al-Sisi

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came back to power. -- al-Sisi. You are Alleyne yourself with a leader

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who is authoritarian. I don't think so. We are self-funded and self

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defending. We have not seen any greater benefits by supporting

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anyone. If we look across the presidency in the past, we have been

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attacked equally throughout. And I think we have two change the

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paradigms of this conversation a little bit, because I think

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Christians in Egypt, as with anywhere, and the right to express

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their allegiances to whichever political leadership or party they

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see will hold their interests, without reprisal. And I think that

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is very important. Yes, but a lot of Copts in Egypt today, looking

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online, they are frustrated that you at the top of the church do seem to

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be knee-jerk loyal to the president of the country, Mr al-Sisi. For

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example, one blogger who blogs about Coptic issues has actually

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questioned the current Pope's fidelity to the Coptic creed. He

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said the church shows very little love except to the regime, SL. He is

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very resentful. -- it self. I agree with this frustration, but I don't

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think it is about loyalty. It is about alternatives. -- itself.

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Suppose we don't support al-Sisi. What is the alternative? We saw in

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the past presidency our cathedral it for the first time in living history

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being attacked in the sight of security forces who were standing

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and looking on and doing nothing. So that was not a viable option. What

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we can also realises that you have two -- if you are looking on, and

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there is an alternative, you should do that. So the suggestion is that

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if you do not support authoritarians, you are defenceless.

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That Christians felt similar things in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and Bashar

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al-Assad's Syria. But look at what has happened to questions in those

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countries. Because when the dam breaks, and the authoritarian loses

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his grip, because of the collaboration, Christians are in

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even more danger, aren't they? Creatures are in danger anyway. Over

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the past decades, we have seen that. -- Christians. I don't think it is a

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blind allegiance. It is an informed choice. Because one look ats at the

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options. Or lack of choice? Exactly. On the 30th of September, when

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Egyptians came out into the streets, they were by no means in the

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Christians. There was a huge spectrum. Yet, when you see police

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officers killed, soldiers killed, nobody asked where they were on the

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30th. Nobody asked what the political support is. They realise

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that they are targeted because they are police officers and soldiers. So

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Christians are being targeted by this French, just because they are

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Christians. And I think no matter what ever the affiliation as, there

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will be targeted because of the intolerance because of this fringe

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element. -- by this fringe. I'm giving you a chance in his interview

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to speak out against al-Sisi. A lot of Coptic intellectuals came out and

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issued a statement, a combination of al-Sisi, and they said that despite

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corporation, ordinary Christian citizens, day by day, still suffer

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from discrimination. You have an opportunity, here, to save Mr

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al-Sisi, at your words about helping us are not backed by actions. And it

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is not good enough. We have said that. But it would be naive of any

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analyst to say that we do not meet demands and do not stand by our

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people. We have to benefit except the interests of our people, and we

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do make demands, whether it is for people who are attacked on a daily

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basis or others. It is important for me as a bishop that we make these

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demands, we have made and through to the government, through their

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dramatic core, and we have nothing to fear in making these claims.

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The background, it is striking to me that the Pope described the Arab

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Spring, which we remember in 2011 a surge of people across the region

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taking to the streets in support of Democratic change and reform, he

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described the Arab Spring as, quite, not a spring but a winter, plotted

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by malicious hands. Is that a place where Christians in the region want

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to be? Against that surge of popular support for change and an end to

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authoritarianism? No one is against reform, absolutely. I think we saw

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what was going to happen, we saw, knowing Egypt and knowing the

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political landscape, knowing the mentality and dynamic, that once

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this leader was gone, it would become a political vacuum. That

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vacuum would be filled by people who may not have the interests of the

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country at heart. We saw the greatest number of attacks in those

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two years than we had for the previous 20 years, because it was an

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anarchic state. As well because there was a sense of empowerment of

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those who were on the fringes. Those who didn't really want to think

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about anyone else. The thing about democracy is that it is a means to

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an end. I think that end is that a democracy is only as strong as it is

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able to protect its smallest unit. Let me ask you about the visit of

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Pope Francis. We've been discussing how the local Coptic Church finesses

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its relationship to the state and power in a very troubled atmosphere

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in Egypt today. What do you want from Pope Francis? How robust do you

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want his message to the Egyptian government and people to be? I think

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on record, Pope Francis has been very robust in his message in

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support of Christians in the Middle East and Egypt, and indeed many

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persecuted people around the world. It is a Christian message of

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equality and sanctity of life and dignity of life. I think that is the

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message that people will get. He is primarily going to visit his own

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constituency, but also to support the Christians of Egypt, and to look

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into the Christian - Muslim dialogue on violent extremism. I think that

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voice going into that dialogue, that conversation is going to be

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important. It's not about conferences and dialogues any more,

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it is about taking ownership of the tax that are being used by the

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caliphate and its affiliates to manipulate Muslims -- texts. Muslims

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who could otherwise be very good Muslims. To use violence against

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peaceful, peace loving people. I have a Christian has broken... Do

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you think most Muslims are going to take lectures from leaders like Pope

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Francis? No. I am saying that the nature of the dialogue is to try and

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speak to our Muslim friends in leadership to say, they need to take

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this ownership of there own texts. Some of them are doing it around the

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world. There are Western Christian leaders and commentators who fear

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that Egypt, the fate of Christians in Egypt could, in years to come,

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have horrible similarities to the fate of Christians in Iraq and

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Syria. In Iraq, we have seen, since 2003, 80% of all Christians in the

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country either killed or have left. Inferior, the figures are getting

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close to that as. Christian communities are almost eliminated.

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Could that happen in Egypt? It is going to be more difficult. There is

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going to be greater pressure, this is not the end, this is only the

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beginning of the campaign is. -- campaign. Your numbers are going

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down? Somerset Coptic Christians are 10% of 90 million, others say it is

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viewer. The numbers seem to be going down? The numbers tend to be

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somewhere between 9- 13%. We have indications of about 15%. I think

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what we have seen, because it is such a book, it is very difficult to

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get what we have seen in other places. For every five Christians in

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the Middle East, four are in Egypt. They have become a target and they

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live under greater pressure. There will be some relief, but I can't

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imagine we will have that amount of haemorrhaging we have tried in other

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places, because what used to happen was that there would be persecution

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in one place, a person would go to a neighbouring Middle Eastern country.

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With a series of failed states, the only way out is Europe or North

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America and that is becoming more difficult. Let me ask you about a

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very sensitive and important word in this debate. The former Archbishop

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of Canterbury used it the other day. That word is genocide. He says that

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we have to acknowledge and report what is happening to Christians in

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the Middle East as a genocide, and that there are clear moral and legal

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imperatives, therefore, to intervene on the part of Western nations and

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international nations, not just Western nations. Is that word

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relevant? Is it, in your view, the right word for what is happening to

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Christians? Absolutely. We have seen it happen in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and

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of course in a smaller scale, but it is happening now in Egypt, from this

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radical fringe. I was very much part of the campaign that ran to the

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United States before the genocide by Congress, we went to the State

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Department, I was very happy to hear a parliament here be very much in

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line with that. I think it is really our responsibility, as a minister

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and a Christian, I need to look at the interests of people. I would be

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very tribal and supercritical if I was just to look at Christians in

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Egypt, without looking at Christians across the Middle East and looking

:20:55.:20:58.

at even groups like there easy to use. There is a narrow in scope

:20:59.:21:01.

through the Middle East. Only certain people have the right to

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exist. We need, in conscience, to address that. If it is a word you

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say is entirely the right word, then what on earth is your view of

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Western political leaders who are not intervening? There has been a

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deafening silence over the past decades. I think we have seen that

:21:29.:21:34.

starting to break recently. Some would say it is too little, too

:21:35.:21:38.

late, but is not too late for those who are still there and suffering.

:21:39.:21:42.

Whatever we can do, even at this late stage, we must try to do. Talk

:21:43.:21:46.

about those still suffering. There is also a debate about them, because

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frankly, it seems that in Iraq and Syria, even those still there are

:21:53.:21:56.

making plans to escape. They see no future in either country. They think

:21:57.:22:00.

the Christian experience and presence in those countries is over.

:22:01.:22:04.

Yet, we have Christian leaders, I will now quite your -- quote words

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from a former cleric, he wrote this open letter to his flock in Syria

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saying, despite all your suffering, stay here, do not emigrate. We

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absorb the faithful, call them to patients in spite of the

:22:28.:22:31.

tribulations, spite of the tsunami and bloody, tragic crises. Jesus

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tells us, he finished, fear not. Do you, as a religious Christian

:22:39.:22:44.

leader, have a right to tell your flock not to flee in the face of all

:22:45.:22:50.

of this? The patriarch has a right to approach his own people in a way

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he thinks is fitting. What is your view of whether that is the right

:22:56.:22:59.

thing to say to ordinary Christian people facing the reality of life

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and death in Iraq and Syria today? It is exactly that, facing reality I

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don't think I should put the burden on a single individual for the

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continuance of Christianity, and have him or her stay there at the

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personal cost, because of that. I think people need to make a personal

:23:19.:23:22.

decision. If they think they have a viable presence in existence, we

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need to support them to stay safe and dignified. But if they need to

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leave, if they think, got they will decide on the interest and safety of

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their children and families, we need to provide a safe passage. I don't

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think we can prescribe that. What would you do if it was you and your

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family in Iraq or Syria today? It is difficult to know. If I was alone as

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a celibate monk, I would probably stay. If I had to look after a

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family with vulnerable people, children, the elderly, I would look

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after their interests. That is why I say it is a particular personal

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decision that we can't take away from people. They need to make those

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decisions for themselves and to be able to ensure the lights... We live

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in freedom, dignity and safety, and I don't think I should expect less

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of anybody in the world. Thank you very much for being on HARDtalk.

:24:19.:24:25.

Thank you.

:24:26.:24:29.

Stephen Sackur speaks to the General Bishop of the Coptic Church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos.

In just a few days from now, Pope Francis will fly to Egypt to offer his personal support to Egypt's Coptic Christians. He will be met by a community filled with apprehension, targeted by jihadist extremists and subject to persistent discrimination and sectarian violence. Elsewhere in Syria and Iraq, the plight of Christians is even worse. Do Christians have any future at all in the Middle East?