(In collaboration with Termometro Politico)

Egyptian Copts fell victim to acts of terrorism again. It happened to 21 of them, who worked in Libya, at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which confirmed and released the beheading video on February 14th, appeared on the twitterfeed of a website that supports ISIS.

The beheading video

The video, entitled “The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church”, shows some ISIS militants guiding the captives, dressed in orange jump suits, towards a beach. They are forced down onto their knees and then beheaded.

Most of them came from small and poor Egyptian villages, especially from Al-Our, in Mynia, and Al-Jibali. They were in Libya in order to support their families by working modestly. But in few minutes they died a horrible death, caused by some militants who have sworn allegiance to the notorious ISIS.

The video was declared to be authentic by armed groups in Libya, which, by confirming their affiliation with ISIS, had held the 21 Coptic Christians hostage for weeks. The oldest victim was 40-year-old Majid Suayman Shihata; he had hoped to earn enough money to pay for the education of his three children as well as provide for his mother and his siblings. Among the victims was 22-year-old Abanub Ayyad Atiyyah, the youngest, who had hoped to help his family as well as save money for his own wedding.

Egypt’s reaction

According to the Islamist group, the beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts represents an act of revenge for the persecution of some Muslim women by Coptic Christians in Egypt. Unfortunately, a better explanation has not been given. The response of Al-Azhar, centre of Islamic learning in Egypt, to this crucial event has been surprising: “Any religion would accept such barbaric action”.

This “barbaric” attack worried the Egyptian President Abd al-Fattah el-Sisi, who declared seven days of mourning and called for an urgent meeting of Egypt’s top national security team. The Coptic Church confirmed its confidence in the Egyptian government, which will look for justice after this event. In the meantime, counterattacks from the Egyptian army and UN intervention are expected.

Video also worried Italy: one of the militants referred to an affiliated Islamist group, established less than 500 miles from the Southern tip of Italy, saying the group now plans to “conquer Rome”. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi declared that a non-temporary military intervention of Italy is necessary.

An ethno-religious group likely to disappear

However, this is not the first time a Coptic ethno-religious group has suffered a terrorist attack. Since the deposition of Mubarak in February 2011, Egypt has been tearing by a great wave of persecution. A good example is the Coptic Church in Upper Egypt set on fire in October 2011, killing 28 people, for the most part Christians, during the fighting against security forces. In April 2011, some armed groups attacked the Coptic Cathedral in the Abbasiya district in Cairo, causing the death of two people and dozens were injured.

These events have sped up the immigration of the Copts to America, Europe and the other Middle Eastern countries. Such episodes make us think how Coptic Christians are always on the lookout, today more than any other day. Also, it seems clear that their presence is decreasing with the passing of time because of continual discrimination by the Islamic fundamentalists. Copts are only waiting for a moment of peace.

 

ERICA BALSANO

Master’s degree in Languages and Cultures for International Communication and Cooperation (University of Milan)