Saturday,17 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)
Saturday,17 November, 2018
Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

No news of the kidnapped

Despite efforts to free them, 20 Egyptian Christians continue to be held hostage in Libya, reports Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

“A message to the Egyptian authorities: the lives of your sons are under threat. When are you going to take a stand?”

“From an Egyptian citizen to the president: your sons have been kidnapped in Libya. We are waiting for your response and for the response of Egypt.”

“When will the international community take responsibility for protecting civilians?”

These were some of the messages that the families of 20 kidnapped Egyptian Christians held in Libya held up during a demonstration in downtown Cairo on Monday. The protest was staged by the relatives of the missing Christians to express their concerns over the health of their kinsmen, kidnapped in Libya four weeks ago.

“We have heard nothing from them,” said Emad, a relative of one of the kidnapped Christians, all of whom are men. “We appeal to the president to exert every effort to have them released. We will not move from here until they are released.”

Another relative said that most of those participating in the demonstration were from Minya in Upper Egypt and that all the kidnapped Christians are from the same extended family. “The kidnapped are my cousins. Our hope is in Almighty God,” he said.

The Foreign Ministry is conducting high-level negotiations with Libyan officials to secure the release of the kidnapped men. “The state has a responsibility for its citizens, and officials will not rest until we have resolved this issue,” Yasser Reda, an assistant to the foreign minister, said after a meeting with a group representing the families of the kidnapped on Monday.

Reda said that the state was making every effort to resolve the problem. Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Ati, Egyptian Ambassador to Libya Mohamed Abu Bakr and representative of NGOs also attended the meeting.

At the meeting, Reda briefed the families on recent contacts with Libyan officials and the leaders of Libyan tribes, as well as influential independent persons and NGOs in order to secure the release of the kidnapped.

He said that contact had been initiated through a crisis-working group formed to follow up developments on the case. The working group, which will convene until the kidnap issue is resolved, held its first meeting more than two weeks ago to discuss how to ensure the safe return of the abductees.

The Foreign Ministry declared early this month that 20 Egyptians had been abducted in two separate incidents in Libya. Eyewitnesses said gunmen abducted 13 Christian men in the middle of the night from a residential compound in Libya in early January.

The incident occurred a few days after seven Christians were reported to have been kidnapped at a fake checkpoint in the city of Sirte as they tried to leave the city.

There have been conflicting reports on the fate of the two groups. A source close to the Libyan government said in early January that the Islamist militant group Ansar Al-Sharia had kidnapped the 20 men in the two separate incidents.

Two days later a tribal source said 13 of the men had been detained by people smugglers and later released, but the information was described as incorrect by the Foreign Ministry.

The branch of Islamic State (IS) in Libya has also claimed the abduction of the Christians. In a statement, the group said they were taken in various areas near Tripoli including Sirte. No demands were made for the release of the men.

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. Christians, in particular, were targeted by Islamist militias as Libya descended into chaos following the collapse of the Gaddafi regime.

In early December last year, an Egyptian Christian doctor and his wife were killed when their house was attacked in Sirte. According to local reports, the couple’s daughter, also 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.

Other incidents of torture, kidnapping and deportation of Egyptian Christians accused of religious proselytising were reported earlier in the year.

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

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 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 defeat, citing voting irregularities and a low turnout amid the country’s deepening civil conflict.

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 also failed to integrate the disparate rebel groups that helped topple the Gaddafi regime 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.

As a result of the continuing conflict in Libya, the Foreign Ministry in Cairo has reiterated its call for Egyptians residing in Libya to exert the utmost caution and to stay away from places where clashes are taking place. It has also issued several warnings against travelling to Libya. A total ban on travelling to the country is being considered.

Altaf Halim, who took part in Monday’s protest march, although she is not related to any of the kidnapped Egyptians, said that people knew it was dangerous to go to Libya.

“However, we need to look for the reasons why these kidnapped individuals and other Egyptians were living in Libya. The need for a decent income makes them risk their lives” by working in the country, she said.

Until these reasons are properly addressed, Egyptians will continue to travel to Libya for work, she added.

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