Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1228, (8 - 14 January 2015)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1228, (8 - 14 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Taken by force

The kidnapping of Egyptian Christians in Libya spotlights the dangers facing expatriate workers. Doaa El-Bey reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

“We stand here without knowing the fate of our kin. We do not know who abducted them, or what the abductors want,” said a relative of one of the kidnapped Egyptians before a meeting with officials at the Foreign Ministry.

“We all know that it is dangerous to work in Libya. But we have to look at why our relatives, and thousands of others, are forced to do just that,” said another.

The abduction of 13 Egyptian Copts in Libya this week, following the kidnapping of seven a week earlier, has reignited discussion of how best to protect the thousands of Egyptians who work in Libya.

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has formed “a crisis workgroup” to follow up on developments. The workgroup, which will convene until that kidnap issue is resolved, held its first meeting on Monday to discuss what has been done so far to ensure the safe return of the abductees.

While some news agencies and newspapers have reported that the 13 kidnapped Egyptians had already been released, the Foreign Ministry was unable to confirm the reports before Al-Ahram Weekly went to press.

“We cannot confirm any news about the release of the Egyptian detainees,” said Badr Abdel Atti Foreign Ministry spokesman on Tuesday.

“There is no confirmed information about the identity of the abductors or what their demands are,” said Abdel Atti. The only information we do have, he added, is that all detainees are well.

The Foreign Ministry has repeatedly issued warnings against travel to Libya, he added. “Security and government bodies are currently considering whether or not to ban all Egyptians from travelling to Libya.”

Reports about the release of the 13 Copts quote Muftah Marzuq, a tribal leader in Sirte, saying the Egyptian Christians were freed on Monday. Marzuq insisted the 13 had not been kidnapped but detained by people smugglers.

“The Egyptians were held by a group that deals in trafficking and that was engaged in a dispute over money and people smuggling in the Harawa region east of Sirte.”

News of the Egyptians’ disappearance spread on Saturday when a source close to the Libyan government accused the Islamist militant group Ansar Al-Sharia of kidnapping the 13 Coptic Christians in Sirte. Eyewitnesses say gunmen abducted the Christian men in the middle of the night from a residential compound.

Marzuq claims Sirte city elders negotiated the release of the 13. He provided no further details.

The incident occurred a few days after seven Coptic Christians were reported to have been kidnapped at a fake checkpoint in Sirte as they tried to leave the city. Marzuq made no mention of the earlier kidnapping.

Sirte is controlled by Islamist militias, including Ansar Al-Sharia, which the UN added to its list of terrorist groups last month.

An estimated 40,000 Egyptians work in Libya, mainly in the construction sector. Copts in particular were targeted by Islamist militias as Libya descended into chaos following the collapse of the Gadhafi regime.

In early December an Egyptian Coptic doctor and his wife were killed when their house was attacked in Sirte. According to local reports the couple’s daughter, abducted during the attack, was found dead a few days later.

In February 2014 the bodies of seven Egyptian Christians were found near Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city. They had been shot in what appeared to be a sectarian attack.

In September 2013 an Egyptian was shot dead in Sirte following an argument with two armed men.

In 2013 several incidents of torture, kidnapping and deportation of Egyptian Christians accused of proselytizing were reported.

Last year also saw the abduction of five Egyptian diplomats in Tripoli. The diplomats are thought to have been kidnapped in retaliation for the arrest of Shaaban Hadeya, aka Abu Obayda Al-Zawi, the head of Libyan Revolutionary Chamber, in Alexandria.

The Libyan Revolutionary Council is thought to have been behind several bomb attacks in Libya and the kidnapping of Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan in October 2013.

The Egyptian diplomats were set free two days after Al-Zawi appeared on television to announce he had been released by the Egyptian authorities. In response to the abductions the Foreign Ministry withdrew a number of embassy staff from Tripoli and consulate staff from Benghazi.

The Libyan incident was not the first time that an Egyptian foreign mission has been attacked by terrorist groups. In 1995 the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad was bombed by Al-Qaeda, leaving 15 dead and 60 injured. A decade later Ehab Al-Sherif, Egypt’s ambassador to Iraq, was murdered by an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group.

In 2010 the Egyptian embassy in Baghdad was the target of a bomb attack that left 17 dead and more than 200 injured. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack.

Libya currently has rival governments. The internationally recognised House of Representatives, together with the cabinet of Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thani, is based in the eastern port city of Tobruk, while in Tripoli a new General National Congress and the Supreme Court, backed by Libya Dawn, a coalition of Islamist militias, holds sway.

The General National Congress was Libya’s sole official legislature until the June 2014 elections, after which it was supposed to disband and be replaced by the new House of Representatives. But politicians from Islamist parties that performed poorly in the elections refused to acknowledge their defeat, citing voting irregularities and a low turnout amid the country’s deepening civil war.

They set up a new General National Congress, led by the Justice and Construction Party, the political arm of the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Libya has failed to integrate the disparate rebel groups that helped topple Gaddafi into any political settlement. In eastern Libya radical Islamists have been accused of launching dozens of attacks on security forces and Western interests in and around Benghazi and the Libyan-Egyptian border has long been a crossing point for smuggled weapons and the movement of extremists from Libya to Egypt.

Before 2011, 1.5 million Egyptians were employed in the oil-rich state.

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