Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Waiting for a solution

The ordeal of Egyptian Copts detained in Libya seems to be far from over, reports Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

Though the Libyan ambassador to Egypt has promised to hold an investigation into the attack on the Coptic church in the Libyan city of Benghazi last week, the plight of Egyptian Copts living in Libya does not seem to be over.

According to Nader Al-Sobki of the Maspero Youth Union (MYU), a Coptic activist group, the conditions suffered by Egyptian Copts in Libya were difficult. “The government is not in full control, and Salafist groups are detaining Egyptian Copts either for alleged missionary activities or for illegal entry into Libya,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Nine Copts had returned to Egypt on Saturday from Libya, he said, having been released some days earlier. According to Al-Sobki, the marks of torture in detention were found on their bodies.

The Libyan government was depending on militias to serve as security forces because the country’s police had been in disarray since the revolution that ousted former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi from power, said one diplomat who preferred to remain anonymous.

“Given that these militias belong to extremist groups, mainly Salafis, the authorities are willing to appease them by adopting a hardline approach to Christians,” the diplomat said.

The Libyan government was not in control of the militias, he said.

Libyan Ambassador to Egypt Ashour Hamid bin Rashid met with Coptic Pope Tawadros II on Sunday to discuss the safety of Egyptian Copts in Libya, saying that his government was committed to ensuring the safety of all Egyptians in Libya.

Rashid announced at a press conference after the meeting that the embassy would resume its work to assist the detained Egyptian Copts.

The embassy had temporarily suspended its services on Saturday in response to protests by Egyptian Coptic activists angry at reports of the mistreatment of Copts in Libya.

Rashid met with members of Coptic youth groups late last week, and al-Sobki, who attended the meeting, said that he had seemed willing to address the problem, but had not had enough information.

“He asked us to provide information about the groups that were detaining the Egyptian Copts and the places of detention,” he said.

The meeting came one day after the burning of a Coptic Orthodox church in Benghazi, described by Rashid as a “criminal act”. He promised that an investigation would be held to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry condemned the attack on the church and said that the Egyptian embassy in Libya was investigating allegations of torture.

Earlier this month, demonstrators protested outside the Libyan embassy in Cairo and burned a Libyan flag in protest at the death of Ezzat Attallah, a Copt detained in Libya.

The protests were organised by Coptic groups like the MYU and the Coptic Youth Front. The MYU has said that it will hold a press conference soon to cast light on that issue.

Attallah had been detained on charges of Christian missionary activities in Libya, and he was arrested together with four other Copts in February.

The four are still in detention, and the Cairo protesters demanded their release, as well as compensation for Attallah’s family and an apology from the Libyan government for the detention and maltreatment of Egyptian Copts.

Libyan officials and Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said Attallah had died of natural causes, linked to diabetes and heart problems.

However, his family has continued to claim that he was tortured to death. “Attallah was a healthy man. His wife, who went to Libya to regain his body, saw traces of torture on his body. A request for forensic tests was denied,” Al-Sobki said.

Attallah’s brother said that Attallah had been tortured after being moved from a Benghazi prison to Tripoli prior to further investigations.

The arrest of a further 48 Egyptians Christians on charges of proselytising earlier this month in Benghazi has inflamed the situation.

They men worked as traders in the Benghazi market, and they had been arrested for possession of copies of the Bible and texts bearing images of Christ and the late Coptic Pope Shenouda III, as well as allegedly urging conversion to Christianity.

The official charge they face is illegal entry into Libya. 

Videos and pictures posted online apparently show that they have been treated in an inhumane way. The images show detainees with shaved heads squatting on the floor of a small room, while one bearded Libyan says that the detainees were arrested on charges of proselytising.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry intervened to secure the release of 55 Egyptians detained in Libya this month. Thirty-five of them were deported for illegally entering the country, while 20 were cleared to stay in Libya.

There has also been a series of recent attacks targeting Christians in Libya. In December, two Egyptian Christians were killed and two others were injured when suspected Islamists threw a homemade bomb at a Coptic Orthodox church in the west of the country.

Four foreigners under investigation for alleged espionage and proselytising remain in a Libyan prison. The four include a Swedish-American, a South Korean, a South African and an Egyptian national.

Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians are now working in construction and other jobs in Libya. Hundreds are believed to have been killed in the crossfire during the country’s civil conflict, and many others lost their jobs.

However, there are many who have preferred to stay in Libya.

In spite of the difficult situation and the absence of law and order, many Copts have chosen to stay in Libya, al-Sobki said.

“They stayed because they have jobs there. Besides, the situation in Egypt is also difficult,” he said.

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