En 2012 en Égypte, ce manifestant brandissait le drapeau du pays ainsi que les emblèmes de l'islam et de la chrétienté, symbole de paix et d'œcuménisme. Crédit Alisdare Hickson.

Sinai, the flight of Egypt’s Coptic Christians

PROOFREAD BY THOMAS SHACKLOCK

The flight of Sinai’s Copts to Ismailia follows deadly attacks and a threatening video released by the group ISIL. Analysis of the situation of these national refugees.

 Migration to the West, but also to the East

Whereas the Western world has its eyes drawn to the refugees reaching its boarders, it tends to forget the migrants settling in the East. The UNHCR claims 187,838 asylum seekers were registered in Egypt in 2016. Amongst them 65% were originally from Libya and 16% from Sudan. The remaining 19% were from over 60 countries including Somalia, Iraq, Ethiopia and South Sudan.

However the situation that arose this week concerns national refugees. Egyptian citizens fleeing from one region of Egypt and being resettled only 200km away from their homes, still within Egypt’s frontiers. In fact, at least 90 families fled from the city of Al-Arish, located in North East Sinai, to the Ismailia Governorate.

Copts in the Sinai

The reason behind this sudden resettling of hundreds of people is the violence in the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt has witnessed a wave of militant attacks since the military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi in the summer of 2013. Since then, some of Morsi’s supporters have accused Christians of having backed the overthrow. A Member of Parliament representing the city of Al-Arish, Hossam El Refaay, has told Daily News Egypt that Coptic citizens of North Sinai’s cities of Al-Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid are often subject to kidnappings and killings by militants. He adds that the main objective of these operations is to force Coptic citizens out of Al-Arish.

Additionally, the group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has recently released a video threatening the Christians of Egypt. The video defines Christians as “infidels” who empower the West against Muslims. This adds up to the bombing carried out against a Coptic Church in Cairo in December 2016. The deadly attack was claimed by the group ISIL in a statement vowing to “continue the war against apostates”.

But the cause of the migration to Ismailia was the attack that carried out last week against Sayed Hakim, a 65-year old, and his son, Medhat, 45 years old. Both men’s bodies have been found dead behind a state-run school in the city of Al-Arish.

To sum up, there are three main reasons behind the migration of approximately 90 families from Sinai to the Ismalia Governorate. First of all, the murder of the Hakim father and son that sparked fear. Furthermore, the Copts feel threatened by the video released by the Islamic State affiliated group of “Sinai Province”. Finally, the third reason behind the migration is the militant’s opposition to Coptic presence in Northern Sinai.

Arrival to Ismailia

Approximately 90 families have had to resettle in the Governorate of Ismailia. There, Father Kyrillos Ibrahim told the DPA News Agency that the families have been welcomed into private houses, as well as into government housing and apartments rented by members of the Coptic Church.

The Government does not keep official statistics on the amount of Christians in the Sinai. Nevertheless, priests and residents of the region have told Al Jazeera that the number of Copts living there has dropped from approximately 5000 before the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings to under 1000 in 2017.

 

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