Coptic Christians increasingly feel endangered in Libya and Egypt

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Men in orange jumpsuits purported to be Egyptian Christians held captive by the Islamic State (IS) kneel in front of armed men along a beach said to be near Tripoli, in this still image from an undated video made available on social media on February 15, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Social media via Reuters TV
*Editors: This photo is not available for republication.

Men in orange jumpsuits purported to be Egyptian Christians held captive by the Islamic State (IS) kneel in front of armed men along a beach said to be near Tripoli, in this still image from an undated video made available on social media on February 15, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Social media via Reuters TV *Editors: This photo is not available for republication.

CAIRO (RNS) The gruesome video released by militants from the Islamic State showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts in Libya has focused the world’s attention on the plight of Christians there and the government’s ability to respond.

But the sad truth is that Libyan Christians have long been ruthlessly targeted expressly for their faith, and the Coptic community in Egypt has been virtually powerless to help them.

The U.S. State Department estimates that 50,000 Coptic Christians live in Libya, most of whom are Egyptian. They cross the border into Libya in search of employment.

A report by the Washington-based Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy states that religiously motivated kidnappings in Libya dates back to 2012.

With the growth of radical Islam, Christians in the region are increasingly feeling endangered. Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, and trace their roots to St. Mark, who founded an outpost of the fledgling Christian movement in 1st-century Alexandria.

The victims in the video were kidnapped in separate incidents in Libya, the first of which took place in December when militants grabbed some Christians from a car. Then, in January, the attackers reportedly broke into an apartment and separated a group of Christians from Muslims, taking only the Christians. One of the victims may not have been an Egyptian.

Within hours of the video’s release, the Egyptian government launched airstrikes on Islamic State targets in the fractured nation. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi promised to “deliver retribution against those criminals and murders who are devoid of the most simple of human values.”

He personally paid his respects to the Coptic patriarch, Pope Tawadros II, and declared seven days of mourning in the country.

Monday’s pre-dawn response was fierce and decisive, although critics say it was done more to appease Egyptians than to advance strategic goals. The families of the victims had been holding protests and meetings since the abductions in an effort to prod the Egyptian government to secure their release but had received little support or information, according to people in contact with the families.

Families of the 27 Egyptian Coptic Christians workers kidnapped in the Libyan city of Sirte, hold pictures of their kidnapped relatives as they ask for their release, in front of the U.N. office in Cairo January 19, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-LIBYA, originally transmitted on February 16, 2015.

Families of the 27 Egyptian Coptic Christians workers kidnapped in the Libyan city of Sirte, hold pictures of their kidnapped relatives as they ask for their release, in front of the U.N. office in Cairo January 19, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-LIBYA, originally transmitted on February 16, 2015.

“I think if the Egyptian authorities had made an effort before (the killings) it would have been possible to get a better result,” said Mina Thabet, a Coptic activist and researcher at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms.

Thabet said he knows of seven other Copts who were abducted in August and September and has had no information about who was holding them or even if they were still alive.

“These people need to be put into focus and we need to ensure their safety,” he said.

In December, a Coptic doctor, his wife and their teenage daughter were abducted and murdered.

The families of the kidnapping victims may not be satisfied with the government response, but the Coptic Church has expressed faith in Sisi’s efforts. In a statement, the church urged followers to be “assured that their great homeland will not rest until the evil perpetrators are justly punished for their evil crime.”

Thabet said the victims in Sunday’s video all come from impoverished areas of Upper Egypt where jobs are scarce. Egypt has issued a complete ban on travel to Libya and ordered the evacuation of those who are still living there.


  • Greg

    Looks like the murders of the Eastern Christians are beginning to get some headlines. ISIS has systematically wiped out the Churches in Iraq (30,000 dead or displaced Christians), cleaned out the territory in Syria where they have control, by beheading, bombing, and destroying. Now they’ve begun to clean house in Egypt, and finally, finally, someone is taking action to stop the madness. These Christians, Orthodox, Coptic, and Eastern Catholic, have been in these countries since the time of the Apostles, and within a year’s time, they have been driven out, beheaded, and trampled underfoot. These Churches are two thousand years old! Wow.

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  • Larry

    Yes this is a truly horrific humanitarian tragedy.

    I can’t help but wonder whether there would be the same concern if the victims were some other faith like the the Yazidis and Kurds who are also being murdered en masse by ISIS as well.

    On the upside, the Kurdish Peshmerga militias have been working to protect Christian populations and refugees. If there is any one group to throw our support to its them.

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  • GKS

    Meanwhile Obama is enjoying a nice taxpayer paid vacation to California where he is golfing while the witch he is married to goes to Aspen with t he kids on the taxpayer’s dime too. They don’t even pretend to love each other now and this isn’t the first time thy have taken separate vacations.

  • Ken

    Muslims have been killing Christians for centuries. The Janissary were the enslaved children of murdered Christian parents centuries ago. The very “Tripoli” in the US Marine Corp hym, is about Muslims enslaving and murdering Americans in the late 1700’s.

    Islam is basically nazism with a millenia-older reign of horror.

    The pathetic goofball we have in the White House left out the fact that “The Crusades” were IN RESPONSE to Muslims slaughtering Christians in Jerusalem.

    As an absolute FACT, Mohammad waged war on anyone that would not submit to his religious invention.

    Islam is a menace to the free peoples of this planet. And it always has been. History testifies to that reality.

  • Greg

    I agree. I have been watching this death-march unfold now for more than a year, against the Eastern Christians & the Kurds, and have been scratching my head wondering why all I hear is crickets chirping at the White House.

  • Stephen Lewis

    Ken, please read history without religious prejudice and see that in terms of body count, Christianity (Paul’s “Christianity”) leads the world in religious killing and slaughter of innocents. Check your bad Abrahamic religion at the door, please, and that just about includes each and every one of the main religions of Judaism, Pauline Christianity, and Muhammadism.

    And note, atheism is far worse in historical practice once it achieves political control.

    No organized religions. That’s what we need to protect our societies from religious warfare coming from organized religionists. I teach Celestial Torah Christianity which has no church, no synagogue, no mosque organization for people to join. The night sky where the Celestial Torah is written for everyone is freely available to all who look and find God’s Sign Language in the heavens, there made forever to guide us into evolving from human being status to humane beings, God’s Plan, we all are following willy- nilly, start and stop, two steps ahead, one back, until we get there.

  • Greg

    There is no such thing as “no organized religions.” We are humans, and created by God to organize in societies to protect one another, and worship together. Your statement is like saying we do not need any organized governments. Even the Indians established tribes in which to live, with only the Natural Law leading them. So organized governments and organized religion are simply reality. As for the beheading of the Eastern Christians, well these Churches in Iraq, Syria, Northern Africa, and Egypt were mostly founded by the Apostles Thomas, and Philip, followed by Simon (not Peter) & Jude, and have existed there for two thousand years. They have withstood everything until now, even the destructive spread of Islam by the sword back in the 700s. So it is pathetic to see ISIS rumble through like a bulldozer destroying ancient churches, centuries old religious art, killing people and families, disrupting entire societies with their onslaught. The confusion I have is trying to understand why Egypt is the only government willing to go after these barbarians???

  • Stephen Lewis

    Ken, to me you are one of the barbarians who keep these Abrahamic religious wars going that keep killing people, all through 2500 years of their existence. It is barbaric primitivism to believe in religious mythologies in our modern times where science of history and archeology exist to verify ancient claims being found in Scriptures. They can’t be verified because the writers of the Bible for example writing about “Hebrews” existing over a thousand years before Hebrews existed at all as a separate from Canaanite identifiable group. You cannot derive spiritual authority from man-made fables about people and events that never happened. And you want to point fingers at Muhammadans when your Christian maniacs were acting out Muhammadan ISIS style for centuries, the latest rounds setting fire to black men. You really need to separate religious propaganda from your spiritual beliefs. And please, do some day read about ancient Gnostic Christianity outside your Bible College prejudiced Evangelical bigot’s opinions about “spiritual, not religious” not identified with any religious organization. Read the column here about U.S. Presidents and their religious affiliation and see that “spiritual, not religious” was Abe’s position as was a large segment of America’s population. You think organized religions are built into community social structure when it’s not true at all, as for thousands of years Native American communities have been “spiritual, not religious” in our organized religion sense, each individual allowed freedom to establish their own spiritual relationship with the Creator.

    Whenever organized priesthoods inject their ideas between you and God your spiritual relationship with God has been polluted with other men’s ideas and other men’s relationships that cannot be authentically yours until you prove it by having your own religious views. Copying and pasting New Testament verses in church settings is not really spirituality but conformity to the man-made world, witness the ease with which Presidents make Evangelical “Christians” vote in anti-Christ killers who promptly go off to Muslim lands and kill people by the thousands.

    Thank God! there is a counter spiritual movement happening to oust Abrahamic religious warfare war mongers. It’s time to get real about Abrahamic religions promoting hatred and religious warfare. We need to stop letting Bible or Quran believers even post their hate speech filled Scriptures without reporting them as hate speech, verses urging believers to kill unbelievers or in some way to make unbelievers into human targets for killing or persecuting, e.g. Jewish priests painting Canaanites as moral monsters while telling Jews its perfectly OK to rape Canaanite women, kill their children and husbands and fathers altogether slaughtering them Boko Haram style and this we are to believe is “moral standards”? E.g. Pauline Christians told Jews are anti-Christ killers and in the way of God’s Plan, e.g. Muhammad clones acting out Muhammad’s mad religious ideas of a totalitarian world where he and his ideas alone rule all human beings. It is truly amazing what human beings will fall for as “religious beliefs”..

    We have no need of organized religions as God has written out the Celestial Torah for everyone to read and contemplate the spiritual meanings on their wits and spiritual relationship with the Creator. The astro-theological lore needed to interpret God’s Sign Language is already available. God has seen to the quiet spreading of astrological lore throughout the world now, with most every major newspaper helping to spread that information and interest – – so, no priesthoods are needed are they?

  • Larry

    The problem is not the White House. Its our allies. I am pretty sure attacking ISIS is one issue you can actually get bipartisan support for.

    You have Turkey who is a NATO nation but could care less about the Kurds, Copts or Yazidis and have actively oppressed such groups themselves. They are making it difficult for us to arm and advise the Peshmerga and Coptic militias.

    Israel won’t touch the crisis with a 20′ pole. Being enemies with the Syrian government and hesitant to even take in refugees. Their sole concern is to keep ISIS contain within the borders of countries they are hostile to.

    Jordan IS taking clear action with setting up refugee camps and airstrikes in Syria.

    Iraq’s government is divided and ineffectual. The Iraqi military is so unreliable we are talking with Iran about beefing up the Shia militias. Forces we were shooting at during the occupation of the country.

    On the “not our friends, but making things more complicated side you have:

    Lebanon who is taking in refugees and also sending Hezbollah forces to support Assad.

    Syria’s rapidly collapsing government which was bad news to begin with and even more brutal than ISIS (ISIS never wiped out entire towns using chemical weapons, but not for lack of trying)

    A major drawback is our military is rather short on feet on the ground. The US army is at the same levels as it was in the late 1930’s. Air Force and Naval forces are only of limited usefulness in this conflict.

    This is a messy situation.

  • Larry

    Its this kind of nonsense which is entirely unhelpful. Most of the violence in the region has been Muslim on Muslim. ISIS was formed as a way for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to make a land grab against Iran-friendly Syria.

  • Any philosophy which claims a better life after we die is necessarily a death cult.

    Islam and Christianity share this horrible theory.

    And to worship a God who rules a heavenly afterlife is necessarily evil
    and an assault on humanity – it is an assault on this life we have.

    There is no evidence for it and it leads only to the slaughter of innocent people.

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  • Stephen Lewis

    BTW, I am being banned from posting on RNS rabbis topics because I challenged the rabbi, all rabbis, to answer why none of them seems to know where their primary religious concept word, “Torah” comes from outside Hebrew religion itself, the real etymology being deliberately lost by ancient priests of Judah so they could fool Jews and the world into thinking Torah was all Hebrew when it never was. Because I know the truth, rabbis are afraid of me and will and do resort to dirty tricks to get rid of the critic who knows too much. I’d post on the appropriate RNS thread but I can’t, so I have to speak out where I can to let all of you know RNS and Judaism’s reps are censoring Celestial Torah Christian information because its not supportive of Judaism racist teachings polluting the Torah worship with man-made political agendas.

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