Scores of Copts demonstrated on Wednesday 27 January in front of the Foreign Ministry in Cairo, demanding that Egypt’s government should take serious steps to reveal the fate of Copts who were reportedly kidnapped in Libya over the last six to 18 months. The demonstrators denounced what they described as the Foreign Ministry’s falling short of its duty to reassure Egyptians about the destiny of their family members in Libya.
The kidnapped Copts come mostly from the southern provinces of Sohag, Assiut, and Minya, as well as from districts around Alexandria. Participating in the recent demonstration were members of their families, friends, supporters, and rights activists. The demonstrators provided evidence that the Copts were kidnapped on identity by Islamists in Libya; they held banners with the photographs of the kidnapped, as well as a picture of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi whom they demanded should personally intervene to know the fate of their lost loved ones. The protest was licensed by the Interior Ministry, and was protected by security forces the members of which displayed deep sympathy with the demonstrators.
Agony of families
Ahmed Amer, deputy to the Foreign Minister for Consular Affairs, held an hour-long meeting with representatives of the families of the missing Copts. He promised to check with the Libyan government if these Copts are being held by the Libyan authorities, in which case their return can be negotiated.
Ayman Nageh told Watani that his brother Bekheet was seized by unknown abductors last July once they found out he was Christian, and that his photo and a copy of his passport were later posted on the Internet with a notification that he was held by Daesh. Several non-official attempts to rescue his brother led Mr Nageh to pay some EGP25,000 to individuals who turned out to be fraudsters; his brother is still in the hands of Daesh.
Waguih Matta Hakim from Abu-Teeg in Assiut told Watani that his three brothers and a cousin who had gone to Libya in search of livelihoods were caught by Daesh in August 2014 as they headed home with a group of Egyptians. Before they reached the Egypt Libya border at Salloum their vehicle was stopped by masked men who asked each passenger about his religion. The Muslims were allowed to proceed with their trip, but the Christians were seized. “We’ve had no news from them ever since that day,” Mr Hakim said. Previous demands to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry to bring back his brothers and cousin bore no fruit, he said, “the talk of officials has been no more than mere tranquillisers.”
Daesh targets Copts
It remains to be seen, however, what the Egyptian government will be able to do about the matter. The government and the Coptic Church issued several warnings against travel or work in Libya ever since larges swaths of the land had fallen in Daesh hands. Egyptians held by the Libyan government have a good chance of being brought back home since their return can be negotiated; President Sisi himself welcomed at Cairo Airport the homecoming of 20 such Copts in January 2016. But Copts held by Daesh have next to no such chance, seeing that the relation between Egypt and the terrorists is non-existent. The Egyptian government previously resorted to attempts at negotiating the return of Daesh-held Copts through the elders of tribes that straddle the Western Desert in Egypt and Libya, but without success.
February 2015 saw the atrocious beheading of 20 Copts and a Ghanaian by Daesh who cold bloodedly posted a video of the slaughter.
President Sisi vowed revenge and, at dawn the day following the posting of the video, the Egyptian Air Force waged a series of airstrikes against Daesh sites in Derna, targeting camps and weapon stores. Last February President Sisi sent several planes to repatriate Egyptians from Libya via Tunisia. Some 6700 Egyptians were able to leave, but others could not make it to Tunisia.
It is common knowledge that ever since the Libyan government lost control over large areas in Libya to Daesh, Egyptians in Libya have been consistently targeted by the Islamist terrorist group. Libyan writer and activist Malik al-Sharif explains this as retribution against President Sisi after the overthrow of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt in 2013. “They wish to send a message that President Sisi is not able to protect Egyptians,” Mr Sharif told Watani.
30 January 2016