Saturday,16 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1235, (26 February - 4 March 2015)
Saturday,16 December, 2017
Issue 1235, (26 February - 4 March 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Coming home

Efforts are intensifying to bring back Egyptian workers from Libya, reports Doaa El-Bey

Coming home
Coming home
Al-Ahram Weekly

“It is a relief that thousands of Egyptians have arrived or are on their way back to Egypt. At least, they will be spared the fate that faced their compatriots,” said Emad, the cousin of one of the 21 Egyptians beheaded by the Islamic State (IS) group in Libya earlier this month.

The airlift of Egyptians who managed to enter Tunisia via the Ras Jedeir crossing began on Saturday. From Ras Jedeir they are transported to Jerba airport and then to Egypt.

“There are some 650,000 to 750,000 Egyptians living and working in Libya,” says Naguib Gabriel, head of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights Organisation. “It is extremely difficult to arrange for the return of such a large number.”

On Saturday, 192 expatriate workers arrived at Cairo airport. On Sunday, 303 were airlifted back home; on Monday, 249; and on Tuesday, 514. More Egyptians are waiting in Tunisia and hundreds are expected to cross the Ras Jedir crossing every day during the coming weeks.

Tunisian, Libyan and Egyptian authorities have agreed to limit the numbers crossing to 1,000 a day.

Meanwhile, more than 15,000 Egyptians have crossed the Egyptian-Libyan border via Salloum since Egypt’s air strike against IS last week. The strike on the IS stronghold of Derna came in response to the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians by the terrorist group.

Six more Egyptians were killed on Saturday after three car bombs ripped through the eastern Libyan city of Qubbah, killing 40 people and wounding 70. The bombs targeted a gas station next to a security building in Qubbah, which is close to Derna.

The Foreign Ministry set up a crisis working group earlier this year to follow cases of Egyptians kidnapped in Libya. The group is working around the clock, taking calls from Egyptians in Libya, answering their questions and seeking to arrange for their return.

The working group provides advice on the safety of the areas where expatriate Egyptians reside and tell callers how safe it is to move to other areas, says Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Ati.

The majority of Egyptians working in Libya are employed in the construction sector. Egyptians, and particularly Christians, began to be targeted by Islamist militias as Libya descended into chaos following the collapse of the Gaddafi regime.

“Two churches have been burnt, eight Copts were killed in Sirte, including a doctor and his wife and daughter, and then 21 Copts were beheaded. Now I expect more Egyptians to be abducted in retaliation for the air strikes against Derna,” says Gabriel.

The death toll has grown steadily. In February 2014 the bodies of seven Egyptian Christians were found near Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, 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.

Several incidents of torture and the kidnapping of Egyptian Christians accused of religious proselytising have also been reported.

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

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

The relatives of four Egyptian Christians held hostage in Libya since last August have appealed to the Foreign Ministry and local and Libyan authorities to secure their release.

The situation is made more complex by the fact that Libya currently has two rival governments. The internationally recognised House of Representatives, together with the cabinet of Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni, is based in the eastern port city of Tobruk, while in Tripoli a new General National Congress and Supreme Court, backed by Fajr Libya, 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. They cited voting irregularities and low turnout amid the country’s deepening civil conflict, and 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 the Gaddafi regime. In eastern Libya radical Islamists have been accused of launching dozens of attacks on security forces and Western interests in and around Benghazi. The Libyan-Egyptian border has long been a crossing point for smuggled weapons and the movement of extremists.

The Foreign Ministry in Cairo has reiterated calls for Egyptians in Libya to use extreme caution and keep away from places where clashes are taking place. Following the beheadings, it issued a ban on travel to Libya.

“The problem is we are not facing an established state but groups of armed militants. May God be with our government,” Gabriel said.

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