Egyptian MPs to visit Ismailia to help Christians fleeing North Sinai

Gamal Essam El-Din , Sunday 26 Feb 2017

A delegation will visit Ismailia and Port Said on Sunday to review the conditions of Christian families who fled terrorist threats against them in North Sinai

Christian families who left from Al-Arish in the North Sinai Governorate after the escalation of a campaign targeting Christians by Islamic State militants last week, arrive at the Evangelical Church in Ismailia. (Reuters)

The parliament's human rights committee will send a delegation to meet with Christian families who say they have fled the North Sinai city of Arish due to militant attacks, an MP has said.

Margaret Azer, herself a Christian, said in a statement on Saturday that the delegation will visit the cities of Ismailia and Port Said on Sunday, to review the situation of Coptic families who have fled the capital of the governorate of North Sinai because of attacks by militant group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis.

In the past few days, churches in Ismailia have received dozens of Coptic families who escaped Arish, after a number of attacks targeting Christians in North Sinai over the past two weeks, including the murder of three people in Arish on Wednesday and Thursday.

Azer said the delegation will do everything possible to help Coptic Christian families resettle in Ismailia and Port Said.

"Coptic students should be allowed to join schools in Ismailia and Port Said and those who have been housed in the Anglican church in Ismailia city should be provided with living facilities, including housing units," said Azer.

Azer said she met with Minister of Higher Education Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar to help Coptic university students who fled North Sinai be admitted to the Suez Canal University in Ismailia and Port Said.

The Anglican church in Ismailia has received almost 30 Christian families, around 150 people, fleeing Arish, church official Nabil Shukrallah Basta told Al-Ahram Arabic news website on Saturday, adding that more Christian families are expected to arrive today.

Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church issued a statement on Friday condemning "the repeated terrorist attacks targeting Egyptian Christians in North Sinai."

Azer described attacks against Coptic Christians in North Sinai as "attacks against all Egyptians and that Egypt will show no mercy obliterating these terrorist groups regardless of their threats against Copts."

Mona Mounir, another Christian MP, said she met with the ministers of housing and social solidarity to help 38 Coptic families in Sinai resettle in new housing units in Ismailia city and receive a monthly pension until they return to Arish.

Mounir said she also met with the governor of Ismailia on Saturday to make sure that all families – Christian and Muslim – who left the cities of Arish and Rafah, also in North Sinai, be provided with all necessary living facilities.

"The governor was highly responsive and assured that all will receive the support and care they need, not to mention that the citizens of Ismailia have invited displaced families to seek shelter in their homes," said Mounir.

Abdel-Rehim Ali, an independent MP and a high-profile media figure, also said in a statement that the new wave of attacks against Coptic Christians in North Sinai are part of an old strategy that have been espoused by "the terrorist organization the Muslim Brotherhood since the 1970s."

"There is no doubt that Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis acts as the armed wing of Muslim Brotherhood and that their recent attacks against Copts in North Sinai aim to compel the government to open negotiations and accept reconciliation," said Ali.

Ali's statement added that "the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliated takfiri groups have always used Copts and foreign tourists as soft targets" to achieve their goals.

"This came in the form of issuing fatwas against Coptic Christians, robbing from their homes and gold shops, attacking their villages and torching their churches," said Ali.

"In the 1990s the Muslim Brotherhood and its related terrorist groups launched hundreds of attacks against Copts in Upper Egypt to embarrass the regime of Hosni Mubarak and compel it to open negotiations with them on Islamic sharia and Islamist prisoners," he added.

While the parliament should give every support possible to the army in its campaign against jihadist and takfiri groups in Sinai, the government should be ready to offer everything possible so that Copts there do not become the targets of these groups and receive all help possible," said Ali.

The Muslim Brotherhood denied in a number of occasions any relationship with armed groups. In an op-ed published in the New York Times last week, Gehad El-Haddad, a Muslim Brotherhood official who is currently in prison wrote: "Our flaws are many, but violence is not one."

"We have long heard that violent groups were 'spawned' by the Muslim Brotherhood or were our 'offshoots," wrote El-Haddad, a former media spokesman for the group who was arrested and jailed in September 2013.

"This is wildly misleading. In the cases where people did leave the Muslim Brotherhood to embrace violence, they did so specifically because they found no path in our philosophy, vision of society or movement for such extremism," he wrote.

In a video released last week in which the Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the bombing of a church in Cairo on 11 December last year, which killed 29 Coptic Christian worshippers, the radical group described the Muslim Brotherhood as "apostates" and warned their supporters against supporting them.

In a question directed to Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, MP Mostafa Bakri asked what services and facilities were provided to Copts and Muslims who have been displaced from parts of Sinai to other cities.

Bakri said many families from Arish and Rafah have been evacuated in recent years but most of them returned after the army was able to eliminate terrorists in these two cities.

Sayed Abdel-Aal, a MP and head of the leftist Tagammu party, said in a statement Saturday that "all of Egypt – Christians and Muslims – should stand firm against Islamist terrorism and the terrorist organisation the Muslim Brotherhood."

"Because this organisation and its affiliated groups are currently facing a harsh response from the Egyptian army, they have resorted to launching terrorist attacks against Copts in a desperate attempt to intimidate the government and stop the army's campaign against them," said Abdel-Aal.

Abdel-Aal urged all Egyptian Christians and Muslims to stand as one line against terrorism.

"Please do not allow the holy alliance between the terrorist group and takfiri movements to drive a wedge between you because we are one nation and that terrorism targets us all," said Abdel-Aal.

In the video released by Islamic State-affiliated militants last week, the group called on its supporters to attack Christians across the country.

Two days after the video was released two Christians were murdered in Arish by unknown assailants, bringing the number of Christians killed in North Sinai in the last month to seven. Several of the other killings have been claimed by IS-affiliated militants.

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

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