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Egyptian leftist parties, rights groups call on govt to protect Sinai Christians

Hadeer El-Mahdawy , Sunday 26 Feb 2017
Egypt
A truck loaded with goods arrives for Christian families who fled arish at the Evangelical Church in Ismailia, 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017 (AP)
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A number of political and civil society groups have expressed their solidarity with Christians from North Sinai who have fled their homes in recent days after a spate of militant attacks.

One statement signed by many well-known leftist political parties accuses the government of not protecting Christian citizens in Arish, the capital of North Sinai.

It called on the government to secure those Christians who have not left, to facilitate the exit of those who decide to leave, and to safeguard their properties until they return.

The statement, published by the Egyptians in One Nation Foundation, calls for a protest in front of parliament to condemn the militant violence.

The second, signed by the April 6 youth movement, the Revolutionary Socialists, the Popular Current and Egyptians Against Discrimination, among other bodies, has called for a solidarity campaign with the displaced and a support convoy to the displaced.

Protest

Last week, the Islamic State militant group issued a video claiming responsibility for a deadly attack on a church in Cairo in December, and called on its supporters to attack Christians across the country.

Several days after the video was released, three Christians were murdered in Arish, bringing the number of Christians killed in North Sinai in the last month to seven.

Several of the other killings were claimed by Islamic State-affiliated militants.

Dozens of Christian families have since fled Arish for Ismailia city, where a number of churches have received them.

Displaced families have been housed in youth ministry hostels in Ismailia as well as at the Anglican church there, and basic medical services have been made available.

The Egyptians in One Nation statement called on the education and higher education ministries to facilitate the transfer of displaced students to education institutions in the cities they have sought refuge, and finally to compensate the displaced families for their losses.

Among the signatories were the Constitution Party, the Socialist Popular Coalition, the Social Egyptian Party, the Strong Egypt Party, and the under-establishment Freedom and Bread Party, all leftwing or left-leaning groupings.

Other signatories included the Cairo Institute for Human Rights and Nazra for Feminist Studies, two well-known local human rights groups.

The statement also called for a protest outside parliament, with the date to be confirmed, against the militant actions. Organisers have said they will seek interior ministry permission for the protest, as is required under Egyptian law.

Convoy

Another statement, titled “The Displacement of the Arish Families" has received almost 500 signatures since being issued on Friday.

It announces the launching of a solidarity campaign with North Sinai Christians, and the rejection of "the political blackmail of Christians in Egypt."

The statement calls for respect for citizenship, the right to belief, and human rights values as the only way to rescue all citizens from militant groups and state oppression.

The Strong Egypt Party, the Freedom Egypt Party, and the Freedom and Bread Party also signed this statement.

In addition, among the signatories are both fronts of the April 6 youth movement, the Revolutionary Socialists, the Popular Current group, and the pressure group Egyptians Against Discrimination.

Public figures such as the former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, human rights lawyer Khaled Ali, National Council for Human Rights member George Isaak, rights lawyer Azza Soliman, and dozens of activists and journalists have also signed.

"The scene of the forcible displacement of dozens of Egyptian Christian families from North Sinai reflects the conditions that the residents of this area has been living in since the area turned into a war zone between the sectarian militant groups and the police and army forces," the statement read.

The Egyptian army has been fighting an Islamist insurgency in North Sinai for several years.

The statement claims that it is Sinai residents who are paying a price for this war and "the violations of both parties."

Sally Toma, an activist and psychiatrist who first initiated the second statement, told Ahram Online that the first activity of the popular campaign starts next Tuesday with a service and support convoy to Ismailia.

"The covoy will focus on offering a psychological support to the displaced women and children, as well as supplies. Later the campaign will establish a news page to cover the situation of the families, and will work against discrimination policies in general," Toma explained.

Violence against Christians

The Displacement of the Arish families statement claims that “a new level of violence” began after the deadly dispersal of the pro-Morsi Rabaa sit-in in 2013. Dozens of churches were destroyed in mob violence following the deadly violence at Rabaa.

The statement highlighted the suicide bombing at St. Peter and St. Paul’s church in Cairo at the end of last year, carried out by an Islamic State-affiliated militant, as an example of this increase in violence.

The statement argues that the Sinai killings “happened in a total absence of security in the area, after a video by the criminal Sinai Province [militant] group which declared it would target Christians.”

The killings are not the first murders of Copts in Sinai; in July last year, Father Rafael Moussa of the Mar Girgis Church in Arish was also gunned down by Islamic State-affiliated militants.

“The Egyptian regime gains legitimacy from the Coptic issue,” argued the statement “while it does not give Copts protection, nor take legal and social procedures to end discrimination against them."

Christians are estimated to make up around 10 percent of Egypt’s population.

Sectarian violence against Christians in Egypt is not uncommon; local human rights watchdog the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights reported in August 2016 that in the first eight months of 2016 ten incidents of sectarian violence had taken place in the governorate of Minya, an area of Upper Egyptian with a high proportion of Christian residents.

President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has ordered the government take all necessary measures to provide assistance to the Christians who have fled their homes in Sinai, stressing the importance of countering attempts to “undermine security and stability in Egypt,” saying the displaced families have been “received and housed until terrorist elements are dealt with.”

 

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