Test for Egypt as Christians under attack from Daesh, Muslim neighbors flee

Christian families who left Arish in North Sinai after the escalation of a Daesh campaign arrive at the Evangelical Church in Ismailia. (Reuters)
Updated 04 March 2017

Test for Egypt as Christians under attack from Daesh, Muslim neighbors flee

ISMAILIA: When Daesh militants began circulating names of Christians who must leave their Egyptian hometown of Arish or die, Munir Munir’s father Adel, a civil servant, brought home a hit list that had his own name as number two.
The first person on the list, shopkeeper Wael Youssef, was killed on Jan. 30. The Munirs barricaded themselves inside their house “like rats in a hole,” Munir Munir recalled last week.
Within a month, four more Christians in the town had been shot dead, one beheaded and another burned to death. After the seventh killing, the Munirs finally fled. Their father insisted on staying behind.
A shift in Daesh’s tactics from attacking soldiers and police to targeting Christian civilians has become a potential turning point in a country trying to halt a provincial insurgency from spiraling into wider sectarian bloodshed.
Daesh’s branch in Egypt, which has waged a low-level conflict for years by attacking security forces mostly in the Munirs’ native North Sinai province, has issued a new message inciting attacks on Christians across Egypt.
The militants’ aim, say analysts, is to weaken President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi by sowing the kind of sectarian chaos that has fueled lengthy conflicts in Iraq and Syria.
During the killing wave of the past month, about 145 families have fled North Sinai to Ismailia, a city on the edge of the Suez Canal that forms the western boundary of Sinai, and about 30 to Cairo. Others have made their way to other provinces, church officials and human rights groups say.
Several families, including the Munirs, told Reuters that Muslim neighbors unaffiliated to Daesh have stepped up assaults against them, emboldened by the militants and the violence that has destabilized their province and seen hundreds of soldiers and police killed in recent years.
“Our neighbors took our land because we are Christian. They tried to attack me and my sister and when my father came to defend us they sprayed his face with acid,” said Munir Munir’s sister Dimiana as she huddled with four family members in a churchyard, waiting for volunteers to find them a new home.
The families gathered forlornly at Ismailia’s Evangelical Church around sacks overspilling with the clothes they managed to bring before they fled. Women wailed over lost homes and children ran around oblivious as volunteers brought in blankets and made calls seeking to secure shelter.
Copts comprise about 10 percent of Egypt’s 90 million people, the biggest Christian minority in the Middle East.
The violence is unlike previous waves of sectarian attacks in Egypt, because there is no longer any pretense of a reason, beyond killing Christians for their faith, said Ishak Ibrahim, researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
“What we are seeing here is new. There has always been violence against Christians but it was usually for a ‘reason’ like land disputes. Now Christians are killed just for being Christians,” he said.
“Militants are sending the government a message; saying they can change part of the country’s demographics. This is a dangerous precedent,” he said. “And who knows if it will be replicated in Upper Egypt or elsewhere.”
Sameh Kamel had just made it out of North Sinai with his wife and two children when his neighbor phoned. Daesh militants had come knocking on their door just an hour after the family had packed their bags and fled.
“They’re knocking on doors and if they find a Christian they kill him,” said Kamel.
The opening salvo came in December, when a Daesh fighter bombed a church adjoining Cairo’s St. Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of the Coptic papacy, killing 28 people. The militants threatened all Egyptian Christians in a video in February.
The flight of the North Sinai Coptic families poses a challenge for El-Sisi, who promised to restore security in a US ally seen as a bulwark against extremism.
El-Sisi, whose ouster of President Mohammed Mursi in 2013 sparked an escalation in the Sinai insurgency, has sought to assure Egyptians that security forces would preserve national unity. He ordered the government to help resettle displaced Christians and met with top officials to discuss how to respond.
The Interior Ministry said on Wednesday it “possessed all the capabilities, will, and desire” to protect citizens. But those who fled do not believe the state is able to save them.
“The police and army cannot do anything; they cannot even protect themselves,” said Munir Munir.
“Of course we will not go back to Arish. Go back to die?”

Schools in Lebanon reopen, other sectors gradually

Mask-clad shoppers walk past shops in Beirut's Hamra street on May 7, 2020, as Lebanon gradually eases its lockdown measures against the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus. (AFP)
Updated 30 November 2020

Schools in Lebanon reopen, other sectors gradually

  • The death toll in Lebanon has reached 1,000, while the total number of confirmed cases has jumped to more than 126,000 cases, at a rate of more than 1,200 cases per day during the past two weeks

BEIRUT: The Ministry of Education will reopen schools for integrated education starting on Monday.

This comes after two weeks of closure and amid objections from civil bodies and commentators working in the public field.

Hilda El-Khoury, director of the counseling and guidance department at the Ministry of Education, said: “Returning to education through the combined method will be within the preventive measures that were previously approved.”

However, the Civil Emergency Authority in Lebanon said: “The decision will lead to a health crisis affecting the most vulnerable people, namely children and underage students, especially with the number of cases not declining since before the closure, and with the noticeable increase in the daily number of deaths.”

The Ministerial Committee for Combating the Coronavirus has meanwhile maintained its decision to impose a partial curfew in Lebanon but amended its implementation hours. Instead of starting at 5:00 p.m. each evening, the curfew now begins at 11 p.m. and ends at 5 a.m., provided that restaurants, cafes and malls close at 10:00 pm.

During its meeting on Sunday, the committee decided to restore vehicle movement on roads but maintained the suspension of social activities, cinemas and nightclubs.

Health minister for Lebanon’s caretaker government, Hamad Hassan, said that the adoption of the strategy, permitting odd/even license plate vehicles on the roads on alternate days, had doubled the number of COVID-19 cases due to people’s reliance on shared transportation.

He said: “The rate of commitment to complete closure in all Lebanese territories has reached 70 percent over the past two weeks.”

Hassan said that the aim of the measures was to alleviate the pressure on the medical and nursing staff.

“The required medical measures, completed in terms of expanding the hospitals’ capacity to accommodate the COVID-19 cases, have been completed,” he said.

The death toll in Lebanon has reached 1,000, while the total number of confirmed cases has jumped to more than 126,000 cases, at a rate of more than 1,200 cases per day during the past two weeks.

Abdul Rahman Al-Bizri, an infectious disease specialist and member of the emergency committee on coronavirus, regretted the lack of plans for the period following the closure due to a lack of coordination on COVID-19 between state departments.

He said that this had kept the country in a state of confusion and chaos while citizens paid a high price in light of the difficult economic and living conditions.

Al-Bizri said: “The repeated closures are unsuccessful, and one of their consequences is the decline in economic activity, the life cycle, and the living conditions.”

Meanwhile, video footage of Health Minister Hamad Hassan went viral on Saturday. It showed him cutting a cake for the birthday of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in the open market in Baalbek city.

The video was circulated on social media and caused a scandal following a similar episode in which the same minister was involved months ago.

The people of his town in the Bekaa met him during the peak of the spread of coronavirus, and he danced among them carrying a sword. Some people carried him on their shoulders and other social distancing measures were also not observed.

The Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes, Night-Clubs and Pastries has called in the past few days for the sector to reopen to save what is left of it.

In a statement issued on the eve of the ministerial committees’ meeting, the syndicate called on the caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab, to “adopt a health-economic approach for the benefit of the rest of the sector.”

The syndicate added: “The sector has fully fulfilled its duties with regard to the preventive measures.

“We have also advanced a new approach related to the capacity of institutions, whereby chairs and tables are reallocated to accommodate only 50 percent of the original capacity, guaranteeing that no overcrowding will occur.

“We insist on adopting this as a new measure, and we discussed it with the minister of interior, and the sector will reopen its doors on Monday morning while remaining committed to all procedures and laws.”

Bechara Asmar, the head of the General Labor Union, called for the reopening of the country “because it secures a return to the economic cycle during the month of the holidays, protects workers, employees and daily-paid workers in all private, public, and official sectors, and preserves their livelihood at a time when they risk having their wages reduced, starving to death or dying of the coronavirus.”