Coptic families are reported to be fleeing the northern city of Rafah after suspected Islamist militants opened fire on a Coptic-owned shop on Wednesday 26 September. In the run-up to the attack militants had distributed leaflets warning Christians to leave the city within 48 hours or face violence.
According to reports, two armed men riding a motorcycle opened fire on the Coptic-owned shop, damaging the walls. The shop owner, Mamdouh Nasef, escaped injury and reopened his store over the weekend. Mr Nasef said his Muslim neighbours have urged him and his family to stay and have offered them protection; however, he continues to fear for their safety.
At least nine Coptic families are said to have fled the town in the wake of the threats and shooting, however it is estimated that there are still 23 Coptic families in Rafah, many of whom own business and property in the area and cannot move easily.
Although a government intelligence official initially denied that Copts had been forced to leave the city, another official later contradicted his assertion. On Saturday, 29 September, the Coptic Church released a statement condemning the events in Rafah and requesting that the state address the people "trying to undermine the state authority and show it unable to protect its citizens.”
The forced evictions have also been condemned by members of Egyptian civil society. The National Council for Human Rights said the incident in Rafah was “not only against the most basic concepts of human rights only, but it is also considered a direct threat to the state, its cohesion, its integrity and the stability of the Egyptian society”.
Ishaq Ibrahim, representative for freedom of religion at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said it was another episode in a series of assaults on the lives and properties of Christian citizens, while Dr Mohammed el Baradei described it on Twitter as “yet another case of deplorable discrimination.”
Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive at Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) 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. In the latest incident in Rafah, Copts are being forced to leave as the local authorities are failing to provide them with adequate protection. 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.”
For further information see: www.csw.org.uk.