update on the 21 Copts beheaded in Libya

ISIL announced in its magazine Dabiq that they had kidnapped the 21 Copts in January and beheaded them two weeks before the release of the video. They were allegedly only waiting for the monthly issue of Dabiq to be published.

Abu Mosaad Al Tonsi of ISIL stated that the beheading was a ‘strong message to Copts’. Another ISIL member said that the victims asked to phone their families but they refused for two reasons: first,  that they were kuffar and pows and therefore had no rights. Second, because they did not want their calls to be monitored and hence know their whereabouts. He also said that those who committed the beheadings were members of the Libyan Ansar al Shariaa which had pledged allegiance to ISIL. He added that anyone who did not pledge allegiance to ISIL, especially non-Muslims, their blood is halal.

The leader of the beheading group is allegedly British – with a British mother and Libyan father, and wanted in the UK.

Information in this article from El Watan Newspaper.

“21 candles to give light to Egypt”

bloodThe beautiful shore of the Mediterranean was foaming with the blood of Egyptians – 21 Copts to be exact, kidnapped by ISIL a few weeks earlier. It was ISIL’s “promise” to stain the sea with blood “just like Bin Laden’s sacred body was buried in the sea.” The video – which I have refused to watch – is brutal – at least as shown in the omnipresent pictures that one cannot miss. What crime have those Egyptians committed? they were ‘crusader pigs’ – just like the West which is ‘destroying Islam and Muslims’.

Twenty one impoverished and helpless, unarmed civilians, originally from a tiny village in Menya, Egypt, called Al 3or, slaughtered like animals on a beautiful seashore one sunny day – because they were affiliated  by religion to ‘crusader pigs’.

The families of the victims had been demonstrating and beseeching President Sisi to save their loved ones. Many people said the same thing and especially the anti-Sisi population who saw his wisdom and patience as inaction. Short of a military strike and involvement in a war – what else could anyone really do? Neither Jordan, the US, Japan, the UK, nor France were able to save their own hostages – why expect Egyptians to be able to save their own?

bayanlibyaTwo days prior to the slaughter, the Libyan head of parliament gave a rather ambiguous statement. He offered ‘condolences to the Egyptian people’ and denounced terrorism. The Egyptian government said it did not have any new information on whether the Copts were killed, but that it had open channels of communication with official and non-official entities in Libya.

It turned out they were indeed slaughtered and ISIL published a video footage as proof. 21 young men led to the slaughter as their cowardly captors stood over them ranting about ‘crusades’ and wrong-doings – in English no less, the context and text of which I am sure their victims did not even comprehend.

Following the slaughter, Sisi said Egypt had a right to deal with the issue as it sees fit in its own time and place. With the approval of the Libyan army, Sisi vowed to strike back and he immediately did. Egyptian air force struck ISIL strongholds killing at least 46 and 3 ISIL leaders. Sisi also personally visited Pope Tawadros at the Cathedral to offer condolences and announced that Egypt will be in one week of mourning. Among his other immediate decisions was banning travel completely to Libya and placing forces on the Libyan border with Egypt to evacuate Egyptians who wanted to leave Libya. In addition, he gave orders for the building of a church in Samaloot, Menya at the expense of the State and to name it “Church of the Martyrs of Nation and Faith”.

BBC photo of a family member of the Copts killed by ISIL. Does he look any different from his Muslim counterparts?

BBC photo of a family member of the Copts killed by ISIL. Does he look any different from his Muslim counterparts?

Shock and grief has been the overwhelming feeling of the majority of Egyptians – Muslims and Christians alike. Condemnations from Al Azhar and other entities were immediate. The international community, including the Security Council, condemned the slaughter.

gaberarmoutiIn a unique and genuine, heartfelt show of solidarity, TV anchor Gaber al Armouti wore the orange execution overalls and lit candles in the studio with the names of each individual slaughtered. He also read verses from the Bible.

Naturally social media is a different story -and although there are many I can narrate, I will offer only one: yesterday an Egyptian was arguing with me that since the Church was ‘involved in terrorism then it should expect terrorism’. When I asked what terrorism he was talking about, he said the two magic names: Wafaa Constantine and Kamilia Shehata – the same two women that ISIL used as an excuse to slaughter the 21 Copts. ISIL demanded that Egypt “hand over” the two women who allegedly converted to Islam then back to Christianity ‘because of Church pressure’. I can understand this being the mentality of ISIL.. but for a mainstream Egyptian to say that, reveals to me an underlying tension in the relationship.

The underlying tension of course partially began with the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi when the MB accused the Copts of being the reason why Morsi was removed and went on a church-burning rampage. Similarly the Salafis had repeatedly expressed disdain at the relationship of the State with the Church and threatened President Sisi for visiting the Cathedral to congratulate Copts on their Christmas celebrations. Salafis had also been the driving force behind the rumors and stories surrounding the Shehata-Costantine stories. In fact their leader Borhami called the Copts ‘a criminal minority that is threatening the well being of the Muslim majority.’

Others continued to “blame the victim”: why were they there? they asked. Lamis Gaber, an outspoken, anti-revolutionary journalist, said on radio “why the heck are they there? why don’t you just live as beggars in your own country and save us this mess?” Hmm.. quite the compassionate. She was not alone. Many had also been asking why Egyptians were there in the first place. The answer is simple – we have a saying in Egypt: “what threw you into this bitter situation?” the answer is: “a situation that is even more bitter.”

But this is not the time for analysis, finger pointing, blame or any other.. this is a time for grief and mourning. I feel distracted by my grief to be able to write comprehensively, cohesively or rationally as much as I am trying.

Grief- striken families

Grief- striken families

Some of the family members fainted and were hospitalized upon seeing the video. The Orthodox Church said it appreciated that hospitals in Menya opened their doors wide for the families. Upon hearing of the air force strikes thousands of Copts demonstrated in front of the Cathedral in Abbassiya chanting “strike, Sisi, stike.”

An OnTv host talked over the phone with some of the victims’ families. When asked how they feel, brother of one of the murdered Copts said ” what’s painful is the parting of the beloved – but we are happy because they never renounced their faith and continued to say the name of Jesus until the last seconds.” A matter of pride and honor.

Another man, named Abanoob, brother of another victim said “we are happy because today we lit 21 candles to give light to Egypt.”

 “إحنا فرحانين – وولعنا إنهرده 21 شمعة ننور بيها مصر. بس الفراج صعب”.

 Simple, selfless, generous. Profound. Nothing more need be said.

[video of a memorial held for 13 of the victims]

Photo Gallery:

on the mubarak verdict..

Was the verdict against Mubarak expected? One of the points that was raised time and again regarding this verdict was that the evidence is hard to prove and that Mubarak’s trial was a criminal one and not a political one. It’s true. Pinochet did not give direct orders but was tried politically. So did the Yugoslavian Milosovic, because there is trial based on legal culpability.

However even in Mubarak’s case, there is evidence. Besides the hundreds of pictures and videos showing police shooting there is other incriminating evidence including  the video of the red berets, the presidential guard – who take orders only from Mubarak, making way for the camels. There is no way that camels could move on the streets of Cairo, especially in the first days of the revolution, without direct orders from the ministry of interior and others. Here is the video taken from Maspero, the Egyptian television building:

Former minister of interior Habeeb Al Adli who was also exonerated with Mubarak, was known for his torture of suspects and it was not just heresay.

Having said all that, Mubarak’s trial this time was about corruption and not the murders. It was an exoneration from the case of exporting gas to Israel and not the killing of revolutionaries. Mubarak was exonerated during Morsi’s time several times from several other cases including killing revolutionaries and so were Safwat al Sharif [min of information], Ahmed Nazeef [prime miniter] and Fathi Soror [speaker of the house] as well as all of the policemen who shot people in cold blood, and even Khaled Said’s murderers.

And so the point is moot. It is not really about Sisi or his regime – it is about a revolution that was stifled as soon as it was born and the continuous attempts at defaming everyone who was ever related to it through a merciless propaganda machine.

The fact that we have been saved from a fate similar to other surrounding countries does not justify attacks on freedoms nor attacks on revolutionaries and any opposition. As you know, I am not Ikhwan nor have I ever in my history supported them – but as someone who worked in human rights I believe still in justice and freedoms – no longer in a dreamy/utopian kind of way, but in a practical way. We supported Sisi.. he should have acknowledged that in action and continued on a path to justice as he did with the re-writing of the constitution when he first took over. Now the absence of justice is once again a breeding ground for revolution, extremism and disillusionment.

the republic of fear

Egypt is in a fight for its existence. That seems to be the response to all questions asked about government behavior. I can understand some of that for sure – but not all of it. There are things that are totally senseless and that simply put Egypt in a very bad light. Here are a few recent examples:

1- crackdown on NGOs and civil society. The appointment of Fayza Abul Naga, a woman whose hostility to civil society is notorious, as national security consultant is a grave indication of what is to come.

2- Arrest of student for carrying Orwell’s 1984 [no indication of filming security forces as the policemen who arrested him claimed]. It is a typical case of falsification of evidence and he was released for lack of evidence.

3- Le Monde Diplomatique journalist arrested and interrogated for an hour after woman heard him with two other journalist colleagues in a downtown cafe ‘talking politics’. She yelled at them ‘you want to destroy the country’ and reported them to police who arrested them.

4- Actor Khaled Abul Naga reported to public prosecutor by lawyer who claimed he was inciting for a coup based on a tweet protesting the infamous Protest Law.


Why behave so ridiculously? why hasn’t the government embraced civil society and worked with it rather than attack it? why haven’t they embraced the youth rather than throw them in jail? I fail to understand in whose interest is that absurd behavior coupled with enmity to anything ‘foreign’ and heightened xenophobia. Why do they insist on creating a republic of fear, and then complain when people ask questions or complain about that republic’s behavior?

Egypt was outraged at the 300 questions it had to respond to at the Geneva Human Rights session early November. The questions had to do with assurances regarding Egypt’s non-violation of human rights accords. The media and the government immediately began attacking my colleague Cairo Institute’s Bahei Eddin Hassan for his report on human rights abuses in Egypt that contributed, in part, in ‘painting Egypt in a bad light.’

No – the bad light is this government’s ‘security mentality and militaristic’ behavior. There is indeed a fine balance between  maintaining security, especially if one is in a ‘war for existence’ – and between abiding by human rights principles. The Egyptian government has failed in this balance.


What irks me most is the infantilization of politics in Egypt these days. He said, she said, they said… bickering like little school children. On ALL sides. Enough already! And what irks me most is the very narrow lens that some people look through – narrow lens of their conviction, not open to even listen or think outside the box – even just a bit. The box of media propaganda and toeing the line.

This black and white of “you are either with me or against me” is a Bush Jr doctrine that has infantilized the level of public discourse.



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