As President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi visited the Cathedral of St Mark to extend condolences to Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and a group of Egypt’s leading Bishops, the brutal killing of 21 of the church’s followers in Libya has sparked reactions worldwide.
Rallying behind the government, the Coptic Church stated it was “confident” the Christians’ killers would be brought to justice. Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, told BBC World that his “initial thoughts are with the families who have lost loved ones, people who weren’t there for any other reason besides economic hardship and to support their families. They come from rural communities, which means it’s not just a family that’s suffering but a whole village.”
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb announced Monday in an official statement that families of the victims will be granted “martyr privileges”; the Ministry of Social Solidarity is to disburse EGP 100,000 as well as pensions for the families of each of the Copts killed. The families will be provided as well full education and medical support, as five of the relatives of the victims are “traumatised”, and were transferred to Samallout hospital.
In a separate statement Bishop Angaelos reiterated the Christian philosophy, stating: “While it may seem illogical or incomprehensible, we also pray for those who have carried out these horrific crimes, that the value of God’s creation and human life may become more evident to them, and in this realisation, that the wider effects of pain brought by this and other acts of brutality may be realised and avoided.”
However, a press release from the Coalition of Coptic Egypt felt that the killing of the “innocent”, “simple folk who went to Libya to search for the subsistence” was committed by the “hand of evil” and called for a “military strike to recover their dignity”. The Coalition believes “it should an obligation to recover the bodies of the martyrs to their hometowns” so that they can be “honoured in front of their families”.
Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, of Libya’s internationally-recognised government in Tobruk, has called for Western military support in fighting Islamist militants that are destabilising the highly fragmented country.
Libyan Ambassador to Egypt Mohamed Fayez Gibril told Daily News Egypt that he was worried that the attacks perpetrated by an “Islamic State”-affiliate group in Libya might be the beginning of systemic violence against Coptic Christians. In previous public messages, “IS”-affiliated ‘State of Sinai’, Egypt’s largest militant group, has called security forces allies of Jews and Christians during its attacks on the armed forces.
However, Egypt’s religious institutions were quick to reiterate that the gruesome killings were not done in the name of their Islam. Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s foremost institution globally, reacted with “great sorrow and grief”, calling the acts “barbaric” and stressing that they have “nothing to do with any religious or human values”. Al-Azhar also continued to declare support for Egypt’s subsequent airstrikes on believed militant locations in Libya.
Sending his condolences to the families of those killed, Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam said that the perpetrators of the killings deserved the “wrath of Allah; their fate is hell”.
Minister of Religious Endowments Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa called for unity behind the government to respond to these groups, which “violate all the teachings of Islam”. Gomaa reiterated the importance of the ministry, Al-Azhar and Dar Al-Ifta as institutions that can work to disseminate a more enlightened understanding of the religion, and made reference to the ministry’s work in Egypt of clearing preachers out of mosques who spread disharmony and by encouraging the community to deal with terrorist ideology.
Days after the announcement of a $5.7bn sale of military equipment to Egypt and talk of more to come, French President Francois Hollande offered his condolences to President Al-Sisi by phone on Monday. Hollande has called the killings “savage” and told of the “determination of France and its allies to fight the group”. On Monday, the French Presidency announced that both countries called on the UN “Security Council [to] meet and that the international community take new measures to face up to this danger”.
For its part, the UN Security Council called the killings “heinous and cowardly” and called for the “need to bring the perpetrators of these reprehensible acts of terrorism to justice”. “This crime once again demonstrates the brutality of ISIL, which is responsible for thousands of crimes and abuses against people from all faiths, ethnicities and nationalities, and without regard to any basic value of humanity,” the statement read.
The Security Council’s statement also “underscored that only through national unity and dialogue… can Libyans build their state and its institutions so as to defeat terrorism and prevent such grave crimes”.
A view that was echoed in a statement from the US press secretary speaking on behalf of President Barack Obama that called for a “political resolution” and suggested that conflict “only benefits terrorist groups”. “The many vicious acts… only further galvanises the international community to unite against ISIL”.
Equally, statements from the Foreign Ministers of the United Kingdom and Australia, and Canada’s Prime Minister, equally sought to tie in the attacks to the global movement of Islamist terrorism that has been under the media spotlight with increasing frequency. All of the politicians spoke of their resolve in the fight against terrorism and unity with allies against ISIL.