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Copts Flee Homes in Egypt, Authorities Shrug Shoulders

Reuters reports some disturbing news from Egypt:

Most Christians living near Egypt’s border with Israel are fleeing their homes after Islamist militants made death threats and gunmen attacked a Coptic-owned shop, a priest said on Friday.

The departure of nine families that made up the small Christian community in the border area of Egypt’s Sinai peninsula will fuel worries about religious tolerance and the rise of militancy after the overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak last year.

“Coptic Christian families decided to leave … out of fear for their lives after the threats and the armed attack,” said Mikhail Antwan, priest at the Coptic Margirgis church in the North Sinai town of al-Arish.

Death threats had been printed on flyers circulating in the desert area, he added.

In a separate incident in the town of Assiut on the Nile, heavily armed and masked gunmen stormed the apartment of a local Coptic man who fled with his family. He returned to find his apartment damaged and his family’s valuables stolen. When he asked a police officer for help, this was the response: “I can’t do anything for you, reconcile with them and end the problem.”

Copts have been caught in the turmoil that has swept across Egypt in the past 18 months, frequently threatened by the more intolerant Islamists and discriminated against by the state. The authorities seem reluctant to deal with these kind of incidents—and it’s quite possible that these incidents are underreported in the media.

The Egyptian Prime Minister issued a statement after reports emerged about Copts fleeing Sinai: “The instructions given by the Egyptian authorities is to protect the Coptic brothers wherever they may be.” Via Meadia hopes it’s not just talk.

UPDATE: In the latest press reports, the spokesman for Egyptian President Morsi responds to the news from the Sinai:

“The Coptic families quit their homes pre-emptively but the governor of North Sinai has given orders to return them to their homes and this is being carried out now”

Reuters reports.

Maybe this is good news, and maybe it isn’t. It’s not clear that the Egyptian government can provide the security that these families will need to return.  But it’s clear that keeping the international spotlight on the situation of Egypt’s Christian minority is one of the few things that can provide them with any hope for security at all. We hope the press will stay engaged.

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