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


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


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


targeted by jihadist extremists, and subject to persistent discrimination


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


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


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


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


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


substantively different about the nature of the threat faced by Coptic


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Christian communities have to think more carefully than they have before


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


the long-term discrimination against Coptic Christians in Egypt is


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


specific new law about church construction, but many Copts say


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


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


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


generation. This sort of thought process has infiltrated the


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


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


curricular Bell curricula. Christians it is he themselves as


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


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


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


that their security is constantly under threat. And the government


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


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


legitimate and sincere promises from the President and the government,


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


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


impunity, because crimes go unreported, sometimes, because they


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


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


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


everytime. Any questionnaires at local level, municipal level,


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


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


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


community is represented in the machinery of government and justice?


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


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


there are not enough Christians or they are not intelligent or


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


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


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


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


there needs to be greater representation and the understanding


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


defending. We have not seen any greater benefits by supporting


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


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


paradigms of this conversation a little bit, because I think


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


their allegiances to whichever political leadership or party they


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


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


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


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


example, one blogger who blogs about Coptic issues has actually


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


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


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


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


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


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


being attacked in the sight of security forces who were standing


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


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


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


if you do not support authoritarians, you are defenceless.


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


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


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


his grip, because of the collaboration, Christians are in


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


will be targeted because of the intolerance because of this fringe


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


political landscape, knowing the mentality and dynamic, that once


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


world. There are Western Christian leaders and commentators who fear


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


have horrible similarities to the fate of Christians in Iraq and


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


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


close to that as. Christian communities are almost eliminated.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


international nations, not just Western nations. Is that word


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


the Christian experience and presence in those countries is over.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Thank you.


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?