In recent weeks hundreds of Christian families targeted by the Islamic State have abandoned al-Arish. The government prepared to cover the costs of accommodation, food and schooling for displaced persons. By jihadists have lists with the names of the Copts to be executed. Criticism of the authorities and the army for not intervening in time.
Cairo (AsiaNews) - Hundreds of Coptic Christian families have fled their homes and their lands in al-Arish, the theater of a wave of violence perpetrated by jihadists affiliated to the Islamic State (IS). According to reports from the Department for Social Solidarity of the governorate in the Sinai Peninsula (Egypt), the fleeing families have found shelter and hospitality in 13 different provinces of the country.
The dramatic testimonies of civilians reveal stories of death and destruction. And the fear of being targeted by jihadist militias, which in recent weeks have caused the death of seven people and the burning of several houses. It is a real escalation of terror in North Sinai region, which the Egyptian authorities seem incapable – so far – of stopping.
AsiaNews has met some of these families and interviewed politicians, religious and institutional representatives. The following is what they have told us:
"To date, at least three towns are completely emptied of their Copt inhabitants: Rafah, near the border with the Gaza Strip, Cheikh Zowayed and al-Arish. Unfortunately, the state only heard our cries of pain when it was already too late.
S.E., Coptic Christian fleeing al-Arish
"We will support the cost needed to allow students to attend school and rents for these Coptic families. Moreover, we are ready to guarantee them a monthly allowance of 1,000 Egyptian pounds (just over 57 euro) and the food needed for sustenance. "
Omar Marwan, Minister for Relations with Parliament, Cairo
"What these Coptic families are experiencing is a real violation of the principle of citizenship, as is provided for in the Egyptian Constitution."
Spokesman for the Council of Churches of Egypt
"The members of Daesh [Arabic acronym for the Islamic State] distributed the lists containing the names of the Copts to be executed to the inhabitants of al-Arish. My name was the second and I knew that the first of this list, Waël Youssef, had already been killed. "
Mounir Mounir, government official, al-Arish
"Terrorists commit their crimes against Christians, merely because they are Christians."
Isaac Ibrahim, a lawyer and head of the cover dossier in an Egyptian NGO
"I escaped death and I left behind everything I owned. The irony is that I hear people say that Egypt is better than Syria and Iraq, where there is war. They should come to see how we are forced to live in conditions of immigrants in our own country with their own eyes. "
A youngman on the run, who requested anonymity
"The evacuation of the Copts from this region was the most appropriate choice. It was no longer possible for them to lead a normal life in a similar context of danger. "
Margerite Azer, member of the Egyptian Parliament
"The government has not reacted quickly and effectively in the face of this catastrophe. Why have they allowed terror to go so long unpunished? ".
Emad Gad, Coptic intellectual and member of the Egyptian Parliament
"The Copts in al-Arish are the responsibility of the Egyptian state, not of the Church. Ensuring their protection is a duty and a right clearly expressed in the Constitution. "
Kamal Zakher, Coptic intellectual
"The Egyptian army leads a fierce and all-out war against terrorism in Sinai, as far as it has been dubbed 'the province of the Islamic State' in July 2011. A conflict that caused 1,034 deaths among soldiers and dozens of Bedouin casualties. Despite everything, when terrorists are attacked their response is to automatically target Copts ".
Soliman Chafik, Coptic intellectual
The Coptic minority is being targeted by local cells of the Islamic state. The murder took place yesterday in Al-Arich. The man's house was set on fire. Previously a 60 year old Christian and son were killed; the young man was burnt alive. Daesh announces new attacks on social networks.
Copts who fled El Arīsh tell harrowing stories of point-blank shootings, robberies and fires. Some of those who fought in the Sinai War in 1973 are now branded "Crusaders" by Daesh. Death threats have appeared on homes, or just the word “Go”. Some refugees sleep in several cars to ensure that some at least survive in case of an attack. Muslims in Ismailia show friendship.
In only ten days, seven people have been shot, beheaded or burnt to death. Refugees have been welcomed in Ismailia, Suez, and Cairo. Christians are Daesh’s new target.
An armed man opened fire at a Christian-run liquor store in Giza, killing two people. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack on the church of Mar Mina in Helwan. Solidarity between Christians and Muslims against terrorism is growing. Fr. Rafic: The attacks are an "intimidating message" to the government and president for their tolerance towards Christians.
News about violence against Copts have disappeared from Egyptian media. For the government, the crisis has been resolved. International conferences continue. The one organised by Al-Azhar ended yesterday with no results. More than 1,500 Christians have fled from El Arīsh.