Reuters provides a sobering account of the danger facing Egyptian Christians, beginning with the plight of civil servant Adel Munir, who found himself Number Two on a list of Christians marked for death by the Islamic State.
The first person on the list, shopkeeper Wael Youssef, was killed on Jan. 30. The Munirs barricaded themselves inside their house “like rats in a hole,” Munir Munir recalled last week.
Within a month, four more Christians in the town had been shot dead, one beheaded and another burned to death. After the seventh killing, the Munirs finally fled. Their father insisted on staying behind.
A shift in Islamic State’s tactics from attacking soldiers and police to targeting Christian civilians has become a potential turning point in a country trying to halt a provincial insurgency from spiraling into wider sectarian bloodshed.
Islamic State’s branch in Egypt, which has waged a low-level conflict for years by attacking security forces mostly in the Munirs’ native North Sinai province, has issued a new message inciting attacks on Christians across Egypt.
The brutal tactics of ISIS have been effective, driving about 145 Christian families from the targeted area. More accounts of the purge can be found at CBN News:
Said Sameh Adel Fawzy wasn’t taking any chances and fled the Sinai after ISIS fighters barged into his uncle’s home and shot him and his son dead.
“Last Thursday, my cousin went to open the door after he heard someone knocking,” Fawzy recalled. “He found masked terrorists with a pistol who took him inside and shot him in the head.”
“When my aunt heard the sound of his body falling on the floor she came from her room and yelled: ‘What did you do to my son?'” he continued. “They took her out to the street barefooted and in her pajamas, then went back for her husband and killed him.”
Even worse, some of the families who spoke to Reuters said Muslim neighbors who were not linked to the Islamic State have been emboldened by ISIS rhetoric to attack them and even seize their property after they flee to escape ISIS. The L.A. Times quotes other Christian refugees who thanked Muslim neighbors for hiding them from terrorist attackers and helping them find shelter.
“What we are seeing here is new. There has always been violence against Christians but it was usually for a ‘reason’ like land disputes. Now Christians are killed just for being Christians,” said researcher Ishak Ibrahim of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. “Militants are sending the government a message; saying they can change part of the country’s demographics. This is a dangerous precedent.”
What Ibrahim means is that ISIS is slaughtering Christians — literally going door-to-door and murdering Christians who answer a knock on the door, tooling down the streets in pickup trucks flying ISIS flags — in order to destabilize the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Sisi made promises to protect religious minorities after ousting Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
The wanton murders and dislocations of Christian families are a significant blow to his authority, especially if non-ISIS Muslims are joining in. Coptic Christians have been strong supporters of Sisi; Muslim Brotherhood activists blame them for colluding with Sisi to overthrow Morsi. The savages of ISIS were correct in thinking they would feel dismay or even betrayal when the government failed to protect them. This is exacerbated by Sisi’s strong promises to restore order after the December bombing of a Cairo church, seen by most analysts as the starting gun for the anti-Christian rampage.
Local observers described a sense of panic to al-Jazeera, along with a sense of regional betrayal, as residents of the Sinai complain the Cairo government is not taking all necessary measures to protect them. Sinai residents have long felt alienated from the central government, which is one reason ISIS and its local affiliate Sinai Province have been so successful at recruiting there.
Some of the Christians interviewed by the L.A. Times expressed fears that ISIS sympathizers have infiltrated the Egyptian security services, noting that murders have been carried out with impunity very close to security checkpoints, and the Islamic State death squads have been provided with suspiciously detailed hit lists of Christian residents.
“The vast majority of the Egyptian population is not impacted by the activity in Sinai, so it is easy for the central government to ignore – either because they aren’t able to address the growing violence there or because they don’t want to,” explained Brookings Fellow Sarah Yerkes.
One Cairo journalist told al-Jazeera that Copts are even dismayed with the performance of their own church hierarchy because it has taken a “weak and lenient” stance against the violence, including a pronounced refusal to admit local Egyptian Muslims are participating in the attacks.
“They are thirsty for the blood of any Christian so there is no way for any Christian to live in el-Arish. They were pretty clear when they said, ‘We won’t leave any Christian in peace.’ They want an Islamic state,” Coptic Christian Wafaa Fawzy told CBN. Note the “s” in “state” is lower-case.