It was a Saturday afternoon, I was next to the Nile, and I was feeling very relaxed. But reality has a habit of intruding when we least expect it, and as I idly checked the BBC News on my phone, I was immediately caught by a headline: ‘Coptic Christians flee Sinai after deadly attack’.
The British government does not recommend travel to most of the Sinai Peninsula, but the Northern part of Sinai is particularly troubled, and there have been constant reports of terrorist attacks, especially on the security forces. In the middle of February, however, the local affiliate of ISIS brought out a video threatening to carry out attacks on Christians and cleanse Egypt of them.
Since the release of the video, several Christians have been killed. In one case, a father was shot dead, while his 35 year old son was taken away and burned alive. There was apparently no attempt to negotiate or convert them to Islam. Horrific acts such as this have hit the Christian community hard, and many of the Christians living in the El Arish area (the biggest town in the Northern Sinai) have now fled to the relative safety of Ismailia on the Suez Canal. “I am not going to wait for death”, a restaurant owner said. “These people are ruthless” and he shut up his business and joined the exodus away from the Sinai. In all, well over 100 families have fled.
In Ismailia, the Presbyterian Church has opened its doors to the refugees, working alongside the Orthodox Church to make sure that everyone is accommodated and provided with food, blankets and medical supplies, as well as being offered counselling support. Kasr El Dobara, which is the largest of the Presbyterian churches in the country and is situated in Downtown Cairo, has also mobilized itself to help, offering support to Ismailia, but also providing assistance to those who have come to Cairo. It is good that all the churches have responded, but Christians are asking ‘What is next?’ They are also puzzled by what they perceive as the silence from the Western governments.
Most of Egypt is very safe, but this is a reminder of the difficulties facing Christians in certain parts of the country. February also saw the anniversary of the execution of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya in 2015.
Here is the link to a video made by Anne Zaki (See a previous post: Cracking the Glass Ceiling). It is well worth watching and gives a powerful insight into how strong Egyptian Christians’ faith is: https://vimeo.com/125161160