By ICC’s Egypt Correspondent
03/09/2017 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Amnesty International reported that targeted attacks against Christians, through kidnapping and murder, have increased in the Sinai Peninsula over the last three years. After the removal of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, Coptic Christians have experienced greater persecution for their alleged involvement in the dismissal of the Islamist president. 2017 is proving to be one of the deadliest years yet.
On February 20, 2017, an Islamic State affiliate in Egypt released a video referring to Egypt’s Coptic Christians as their “favorite prey” and promising to eliminate them from Egypt. Christians make up only 10 percent of Egypt’s population.
One way that extremists are fulfilling their deadly mission to eradicate Christians is through targeted killings. Here, masked extremists target and assassinate Coptic Christians in public and private, sometimes killing their victims in front of the victims’ horrified families.
On January 30, for example, a 35-year-old Coptic Christian trader named Wael Youssed Meland was shot and killed by masked men in his grocery shop in El-Arish. The assailants then helped themselves to soda and chips in front of Meland’s wife and son.
On February 12, a Coptic veterinarian named Bahgat William Zkhar was shot in his car just south of El-Arish, Egypt.
One day later, another Copt, Adel Shawky, was shot in the head by masked men in the same district.
On February 16, a Coptic teacher named Gamal Tawfiq Gares was also shot by masked men in El-Arish. Gamal’s widow remembers him as a kind, modest man who had a strong relationship with God. She is comforted that her husband was killed as a Christian, but fears for the future of her family.
On February 22, the bodies of two Coptic Christian men were found behind a school in El-Arish, Egypt. Saad Hakim Hanna, 65 years old, was shot in the head, while his son, Medhat, 45 years old, appeared to have been burned alive.
On February 23, three armed masked men broke into the home of Kamel Raouf Kamel Youssef, a Christian plumber. He was shot multiple times and killed in front of his wife and five children.
These killings have created an atmosphere of panic and terror among Copts in El-Arish, especially since the killers have not been caught. Over 150 Coptic families fled the city after security officials said that they were unable to protect them. While many families have left for new cities in hopes of greater safety, others have been unable to flee. This causes families to split up, often removing children from their parents, in hopes that some of them will achieve safety and freedom.
Thus far, the Egyptian government has failed to protect Copts from radical extremism that threatens their lives. Persecuted for their beliefs, the families remaining in El-Arish feel that they cannot trust anyone around them and live in a state of constant suspicion and anxiety.
“The situation has become so dangerous for us here nowadays,” Fr. Youssef Sobhy, priest of Mar Girgis Coptic Orthodox Church in El-Arish, told International Christian Concern (ICC). “Copts have become very targeted by those militants. There is a situation of panic, fear and terror.”
“The situation for all of us worsens over time here and our lives have become in danger,” Emad Mounir, a Coptic resident of El-Arish, explained to ICC. “My family and I want to leave but we cannot do that because our livelihoods are here, our homes [are] here, and we have nowhere else to go.”
In an effort to support those affected by this outbreak of violence, Egyptian churches of different denominations and even Muslim neighbors have stepped up to provide for these terrified families. Empty apartments, private homes, and youth hostels are opening up to accommodate the refugees who fled with little more than the clothes on their backs.
Even with this support, these families refuse to return to their homes.
“I immediately took my family and fled Arish because our lives became in danger there and we were targeted,” Abou Samir said. “We will not return back to Arish. We were living in terror and fear we are very targeted there nowadays.”
“They killed my husband in front of all people in the market and none of the people did anything,” Neama Nabeh, widow of the martyr Gamal Tawfiq told ICC. “Life became very unsafe for us there and I lost [my] husband there. I cannot lose any one of my children there.”
Mervat Girgis explained to ICC her reason for escaping El-Arish. “We have heard about a lot of cases of murder and I was not going to wait for the moment when I see one of my children or my relatives in this situation. Plus, my husband received a direct threat either to leave or to be slaughtered. This forced us to leave immediately with only our clothes on our back.”
While these killings have appeared to stop for now, many Christians remain afraid of El-Arish and its surrounding areas. It is unlikely that any of the families that fled will return, which means they will have to attempt to rebuild their lives from scratch. Please pray for these Christians as they start their lives over with little assurance of safety.
By ICC’s Egypt Correspondent