Libya: Where Egyptian Christians Risk Everything
By Sandra Elliot
01/12/2017 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Christians in Egypt have learned to live despite. Wives have learned to sleep alone. Children have learned to step into responsibility before they’re due. Families have learned to live with holes blown through their already difficult lives in a country that hates them.
In Egypt, especially the upper governorates of the nation, Christian men are left jobless due to marginalization and discrimination. Christians are hated. They are often kicked out of schools and forced to compete with true Egyptians, Muslim Egyptians, for even the most mediocre of jobs. Because of this, they’re left with no alternative but to face radical Islamic terror in Libya in order to provide food for their children.
If you know anything about Libya, you know it’s no place for soft men. It was in Libya that 21 men had their heads cut from their bodies by Islamic State militants in their sadistic debut film in February 2015.
Those 21 men were Egyptian Christians who had sought out work in Libya in order to provide for their families back home. The world was shocked to see them lined up in orange jumpsuits. The world mourned as their blood spilled into the ocean and stained the sand. But then the world forgot.
Theirs was a tragic story. Theirs is also a story that belongs to so many others. So many who have met the same fate, so many more who have silently disappeared, and still more who are trapped, desperately calling from behind enemy lines hoping that someone will answer.
Trapped in Libya
“We are 16 Christians, living in a housing building in Misrata, Libya. We hope to return home to Egypt, but there isn’t any safe way,” Mena Fayeq explained to International Christian Concern (ICC) over the phone.
To travel home would be to hand themselves to God. The two homebound roads available to Mena and his roommates follow a direct line through militant territories. The highway which carried these workers into Libya from Egypt goes through Sirte, where extremists are known to stop buses and check IDs for Christian names. The other way home is through flying out of Tripoli which drives along similar ISIS-held routes.
These Egyptians are not missing. Their families, their friends and their country know where they are trapped. Yet, nothing is done to their benefit or to their deliverance. Most will continue to work and send money to their impossible-to-reach hometowns.
“There are more than 30 Coptic workers from our village and other nearby villages who are trapped in Misrata, Libya,” one Egyptian Christian resident told ICC. “The Egyptian Foreign Ministry has to intervene and find safe ways to return these men to their homes.”
Without safe routes home, it feels like it will only be a matter of time before tragedy strikes again.
Killed in Libya
On February 23, 2014, long before the world wept for the 21 Egyptian martyrs, there were seven other Copts killed on a Libyan beach. Ranging from 18 to 46-years-old, these seven men were living in Benghazi when terrorists with Ansar al-Sharia stormed the building. When the militants demanded the Christians, a fellow tenant pointed them toward these seven.
Ansar al-Sharia collected the men and executed them on the beach outside of the city.
On March 2, 2014, another Egyptian Christian worker was killed in Libya. Salama Fawzi was shot in the head by a member of Ansar al-Sharia
On December 23, 2014, a Coptic doctor with his wife and their 15-year-old daughter were killed execution style in Jarif, Libya.
On March 5, 2015, less than a month after the murder of the infamous 21, another Egyptian Christian was killed in Fajr, Libya. Eamd Rizk, however, was tortured and beaten to death.
In November 2016, another two brothers were executed by Ansar al-Sharia in Libya for their faith.
All of these men, women and children were celebrated by family members as martyrs. In Egypt, Christian families are proud of the sacrifices they make for Christ. They stand out as a people of particular strength in their will to endure and their capacity to forgive, though this does not ease the gravity of their pain.
“An army comes. With no tanks or soldiers, but an army of martyrs faithful unto death, carrying a message of life. The people of the cross come to die at your gates. If you won’t hear our message with words, then we will show you with our lives laid down.”
These are the words written to ISIS in response to the above atrocities. Martyrdom is expected and welcomed by Christians in Egypt. To them, there are far worse fates to fear.
Lost in Libya
“More than two years have passed since the kidnapping of my husband and still I don’t know anything about him,” Mariam Ghobrial, 26, told ICC. “Sometimes I have hope that he is alive because if he was killed they would [have] announced his execution and then sometimes I am sure that he has not been spared.”
On August 25, 2014, Raafat Demian along with his two brothers and cousin were abducted along the road home to Egypt. Their van was stopped by masked gunmen and they haven’t been heard from since.
Families in Egypt have tirelessly reached out to the Egyptian foreign ministry without result.
“Not one of them has helped us since the kidnapping of my brothers,” Wagih Hakim explained to ICC. “We have lost hope of their return to us.”
Two days after the abduction of the Hakim brothers, Mina Awad, 25, was likewise abducted by militants along the road outside of Sirte City. His family, too, waits in agony wondering whether he is a martyr or a captive.
We don’t know what happens to those who are kidnapped. The recent discovery of ISIS prisons in Libya prove that militants don’t always execute captives immediately. Sadly, these empty cells are all we have to guess unknown dooms.
Shenouda Atiya, 31, was taken in September 2014 while returning from his work in a marble factory in Misrata, Libya. He and his family were living in Libya at the time of his abduction. His wife and two young children returned home to Alexandria, Egypt soon after his disappearance.
They too have lost hope in his return as the Egyptian foreign ministry has done nothing to help their case, just one among dozens. They continue to press the ministry in vain as their hope for a happy ending dwindles with each visit.
“The pain of my children and me is always increasing,” Shenouda’s wife told ICC. “My son is always asking when his father will come back to us…I don’t know what to tell him.”
There is an overbearing grief that accompanies unknown fates. The absence of closure and ambiguous hope forces families into a miserable state. For these families, 2017 did not bring a new year full of new faith; it only marked another milestone in the years of waiting, endless waiting.
This is the state of Libya. This is the state of Egypt. Christian lives seem to have little to no value in these countries. Dozens are missing and trapped and yet no one makes the effort to order a simple airlift, or inquire into the disappearance of Egyptian citizens.
In a time when elderly men have their throats slit by Salafists and women and children are crushed under the weight of collapsing churches, Egypt continues to turn a blind eye to the suffering of its own people.
May the Lord have mercy on the men lost to Libya and their families left behind.