- Middle East/North Africa
A Coptic man re-opened his Rafah shop Friday afternoon after facing threats and intimidation from unknown groups.
MENA reported Saturday that store owner Mamdouh Nassif said he will not leave his store or the city, but did not know who exactly was behind the threats. Nassif had previously shut his store for several days.
Nassif said that he has strong ties with Muslims in the town, while a number of Salafi residents in the area said that they buy most of their items from his store.
Nassif added that he was surprised to find gunshot damage by unidentified gunmen in his store. Though the walls were damaged, Nassif himself was not harmed.
Media outlets and some Coptic clergymen had reported that a number of Coptic families have fled Rafah.
On Friday Reuters reported that nine families from the small Christian community in the Sinai border area had left, quoting Mikhail Antwan, priest at the Mar Girgis church in the North Sinai town of Arish, as saying, "Coptic Christian families decided to leave ... out of fear for their lives after threats and the armed attack."
A local official, who asked not to be named, confirmed the departures and said the families planned to return when security improved. It was the second wave of Christian departures; seven families had left in the wake of former President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.
The forced eviction of Coptic residents has not just been an issue in Sinai. Earlier this year, about 60 Coptic families were forced to leave their homes in Alexandria after they were attacked by angry Muslim mobs.
Most recently, the ONA news agency, affiliated with the privately owned ONTV channel, reported that in Assiut four Coptic families were forced to leave their village after being threatened by members of a Muslim family.
Yusuf Zakaria Ghali, a resident of the village of Naga Raziq in Assiut Governorate, said that he fled with his family and three other families to the city of Assiut after his apartment was stormed by eight men, three of whom were masked and heavily armed.
The break-in came after an altercation between a Muslim employee at Assiut University, Amal Hosni, and Ghali’s niece Cathien Kamal, a Christian student at the Faculty of Engineering.
Ghali told the ONA news agency, affiliated with the privately owned ONTV channel, that the problem began on 20 September, when the two women quarreled after Hosni broke Kamal’s ruler. Kamal filed a complaint against Hosni but the two later reconciled.
However, Ghali said that members of Hosni’s family later approached him at his home and chastised him because his niece filed the complaint. According to Ghali, the family members said that a relative of Ghali’s named Mina had insulted them, and when Ghali denied having such a relative they accused him of lying. The family later returned to the apartment with the armed men.
Ghali fled the apartment with his family when the armed men stormed it. He returned later to find that gold jewelry, as well as money in Egyptian pounds, US dollars and euros, were all missing.
When he asked a police officer to help him and his family return to his village, the officer replied, “I can’t do anything for you, reconcile with them and end the problem."
Meanwhile, the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church headed by Bishop Pachomius condemned the displacement of Christian families from the city of Rafah in North Sinai Governorate.
In a statement read by Bishop Hydra of Aswan, the Holy Synod expressed its deep regret for “the repeated incidents of displacement of Copts from their homes, whether by force or threat."