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ARAB REPUBLIC OF EGYPT: Government must protect Coptic Christians targeted in string of deadly attacks in North Sinai

7 Mar 2017
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Regional conflict

The Egyptian authorities must offer urgent protection to Coptic Christians in North Sinai and provide essential services and accommodation to hundreds who were forced to flee their homes, after seven people from the community were killed in a series of attacks there over the past month, said Amnesty International.

The government has failed to take action to protect Christians in North Sinai who have increasingly faced kidnapping and assassinations by armed groups over the past three years.  The authorities have also failed to prosecute those responsible for sectarian attacks against Christians elsewhere in Egypt, resorting instead to state-sponsored reconciliation agreements which, at times, have involved the forced eviction of Christian families from their homes.

“No one should face discrimination - let alone violent and deadly attacks - because of their religious beliefs,” said Najia Bounaim, Deputy Director for Campaigns at Amnesty International’s regional office in Tunis.

At least 150 Coptic Christian families have fled al-Arish as a result of the latest violence according the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs. Most have sought shelter in the neighbouring governorate of Ismailia in overcrowded temporary accommodation without adequate access to essential services.

In the latest attacks, seven Coptic Christians were killed in North Sinai between 30 January and 23 February. On 19 February a Sinai affiliate of the armed group that calls itself the Islamic State also broadcast a video message threatening the lives of Copts and claiming responsibility for the bombing of a Cairo church in December 2016 that killed at least 25.  Since 2013, Sinai-based armed groups have kidnapped a number of Christians for ransom, in some cases killing them.

One man, whose name is withheld to protect his identify, fled al-Arish to Cairo with seven of his family members after the killings last month. He told Amnesty International that his father, who runs a stationery shop in al-Arish, had received many threats over the past two years and his photo had been published on Facebook pages alongside a message inciting violence against Coptic Christians and demanding that they leave the town. He, his father and brother were forced to abandon their property and livelihoods, including three shops and the family home comprising of six apartments. 

Nabila Fawzy witnessed the killings of her husband and son by masked gunmen on 21 February.  Two gunmen stormed into their house and shot her son in the head and her husband. They took her wedding ring, as well as looting items from the house, before setting it on fire and leaving.

Those displaced by the latest outbreak of violent attacks in North Sinai are sheltering in overcrowded church and government buildings, or with host families in Ismailia who opened up their homes to the displaced. They desperately need long-term accommodation and access to essential services.

“The government must also end the prevailing impunity for attacks against Christians elsewhere around the country and end its reliance on customary reconciliation deals which further fuel a cycle of violence against Christian communities.”

1 March 2017

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