Bishop Angaelos Implores Action For Egypt's Coptic Christians 'Being Killed In The Streets'

Coptic Christians in Egypt are being forced to flee their homes after increasingly violent and direct attacks from ISIS that have killed seven since January.

Hundreds have fled El-Arish, a coastal city in Northern Sinai, Egypt following threats and attacks from violent jihadists targeting Coptic Christians in the region.

Christian families who left from Al-Arish in the North Sinai Governorate after the escalation of a campaign targeting Christians by Islamic State militants last week, arrive at the Evangelical Church in Ismailia, Egypt on February 24, 2017.Reuters

Christian Today spoke with Bishop Angaelos, the General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK.

'We're seeing an increase in targeted attacks against the Christian community, they are no longer sporadic,' said the bishop, who described the 'displacement of scores of families from places that they've lived for generations'.

ISIS have previously called on militant affiliates to target 'infidel' Christians. Now, Angaelos says, 'lists of churches and individuals have been be targeted by those who believe in the cause'.

Bishop Angaelos said: 'This isn't a hypothetical situation. People are making decisions not just about the wellbeing, but the safety and security of their families.'

He added that 'This doesn't change the overall resilience we've seen in the Coptic community. They've been facing attacks for months now, almost on a daily basis.'

Recent weeks have seen Coptic Christians shot in the street, stabbed in their sleep at home and burned to death by ISIS militants. The community represent about 10 per cent of Egypt's majority Muslim populaiton. 

'The community remains resilient and strong, but they're crying out for a sustainable situation of law and order that allows them to be safe in their homes,' Angaelos said.

He said that there has been action to help those affected at a national level, but that this is frequently hampered at the regional level, where local enforcement fails to act competently, or 'turns a blind eye' to what is going on.

Angaelos said: 'We can't safeguard anyone from all criminal activity. But we do need to hold people accountable. Through the intelligence services, law enforcement and judiciary we can hold perpetrators account, and make sure others are deterred by a robust system of law and order, that protects citizens and their country, not just a certain community.'

Angaelos said that this was the 'same principle' of displacement that took forced Christians to flee Mosul in Iraq, albeit on a smaller scale at the moment. It remains unclear what the long term situation will be, he said, though he expects intensified attacks on wider targets to come.

He said the attacks of radical Islamists have not changed the Christian relationship with Muslims at large, and that there has been an 'outpouring of sentiment from the wider Muslim community, assuring Christians that not all Muslims are like that'.

But nonetheless 'the actions of a minority are having substantial impact on community...[assurance from moderates] doesn't help those who are being killed in the streets'.

His Grace has spoken to the Coptic Bishop in Ismaliya and says that the Coptic Church are actively suppporting those who have been displaced. The community are providing financial assistance, accommodation and are planning to set up schooling and university programmes for those who have now been deprived of their education. 

Angaelos, who was born in Egypt, said: 'The Christian community in Egypt has faced persecution for centuries, and particularly in recent decades. It continues to be faithful, prayerful and vibrant. That's something we're proud of and inspired by.

'But we should not let this forgiving nature to allow us to turn our eyes and not see what they're going through, in pursuit of basic human dignity, the sanctity of life, and the value of citizenship.'

George Makeen of Christian satellite network SAT-7 told Christian Today that many Christians in Sinai have reported receiving threats from radicals. Increasingly those threats 'have been translated into action'. Inevitably, many have no choice but to flee.

Makeen says that 'the police themselves are afraid and don't know what to do. So the only option is for people to flee their homes.'

In Ismaliya, 125 miles west of El-Arish, more than 150 families have been hosted by Protestant and Catholic churches who are providing for the needs of those now without homes. Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has said that those fleeing will still be paid despite having to leave their places of work and that the government is working to return the displaced to their homes.

Makeen emphasises that ISIS' killing spree is not simply an attack on Christianity, but is part of an attack on Egypt at large. Christians are a target because they are a vulnerable minority. 'ISIS want to destroy the country, so they aim for the weakest,' he said.

He said that so far 'the government has failed' in protecting its citizens, and advocated for 'freedom' and an 'active security system that can protect all people'.

The charity Open Doors has called the increased kidnappings and killings by radicals 'incredibly worrying'.

The Egyptian Council of Churches issued a statement, calling the crisis a 'violation of the Egyptian constitution and the basic rights of citizenship'.

It added: 'We support with all our power the families of the victims and those who were forcibly displaced and their belongings stolen. We trust that the government is capable of handling this crisis and we look forward to the return of those displaced to their homes and work as soon as possible and towards the management of their needs to end their suffering as soon as possible.'