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04 October 2012

Coptic Christians forced to flee

Coptic Christians forced to flee

 Coptic Christian families have been forced to flee the city of Rafah in northern Egypt.

On Wednesday, 26 September, two armed men on motorcycles opened fire on a Coptic-owned shop.

Before the attack, leaflets had been distributed warning Christians to leave the city within 48 hours or face violent repercussions.

The owner of the shop, Mamdouh Nasef, escaped injury and has been urged to stay by his Muslim neighbours who have offered him protection.

It is estimated nine Coptic families have fled the town following the threats and shooting, but 23 Coptic families remain in Rafah, unable to leave businesses and property.

The reaction of the government has been confused, as initially one official claimed that Copts had not been forced to leave the city, but he was later contradicted.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a member of the Evangelical Alliance, said: “CSW is extremely concerned by reports that Coptic families have been threatened, attacked and are now being forced to leave their homes and businesses in Rafah.

“Upon his election, President Morsi promised to ensure the protection of the Coptic community; however, there have now been two major incidents where Copts have been attacked.

“We urge the Egyptian authorities to ensure safety and protection for the Coptic community in Rafah, and to bring a definitive end to all religion-related discrimination and violence in the country.”

Speaking to the Alliance, His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church, reminded us of the complexity of the situation: “It is very early days for President Morsi. There have been lots of good things happening, though not everything that was promised has materialised, but regardless, these problems are not just down to the president.

“The issue is the mindset and mentality of local security and government which needs to change across the board, and this change needs to be passed on to the Egyptian people.”

When asked whether there was anything Christians in this country could do, Bishop Angaelos encouraged us to pray and “to remember they have brothers and sisters in the Middle East who have been there for 2,000 years". He added: "Christians in the Middle East are resilient, they have been dealing with similar situations for centuries.

“There hasn’t been a mass exodus of Christians from Egypt as in other countries (like Iraq) they are the last significant Christian group in the Middle East, and we are thankful, but they need our prayers.

“We should also be praying for Egypt as a whole community, if things go right they won’t have to deal with issues of Christian versus Muslim, it is about preserving human rights across the board.”