Christian and Muslim Egyptians are deeply grieving the death of 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians beheaded by the Islamic State in Libya on Sunday. Their witness is the ultimate act of faith.
The 21 men executed were poor laborers who had left Egypt to find work in Libya. There are thousands of others who have done the same. The Egyptian government is telling all Egyptians to return home. No Egyptian can now enter Libya.
Matthew 5:11 is running through the minds of many Christians: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
“The purpose of the video [showing the beheading] was to foment sectarian strife in Egypt between Christians and Muslims,” says Ramaz Attalah, general director of PC(USA) ministry partner the Bible Society of Egypt, in a recent letter. “Islamic extremists clearly intended to provoke the 10 million Christians in Egypt to rise up violently against their Muslim neighbors. But the loving and caring response of Muslims all over the nation softened the blow which many Christians felt. All this sends a clear message that Christians are considered an integral part of the fabric of Egyptian society.”
The mother of Tawadros Yousif, one of the men beheaded, says: “I can’t wish them evil. I pray for them that God may open their hearts and give them his light.”
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi went on television to condemn the brutal slayings and to offer his condolences to the families and to the entire Coptic Orthodox Church. He also visited Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria to personally offer condolences. He reportedly even traveled to a small village where most of the men are from, sitting on the floor with their relatives to express his concern.
Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, has released a statement expressing his “deep feelings of sorrow and pain.” In it he asks for prayers for the families of the victims but also pauses to remember others who have suffered at the hands of the militants.
“We cannot remember our Coptic brothers,” he writes, “without also remembering those who have lost their lives in equally brutal circumstances: journalists, aid workers, medical staff, religious leaders, a young pilot and communities that are considered incompatible with a fringe and intolerant element.”
Cinda Gorman, PC(USA) mission co-worker serving at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, says there is a somber feeling on the campus. “One of our quietest staff members, Eman, from the accounting office, lead staff chapel Monday and spoke very candidly about how she just wanted to stay in her office and not speak to anyone because she was so sad. But she came to lead chapel so we could pray and sing together and lift up our Christian brothers and sisters in their pain.”
The PC(USA) liaison in Egypt, Steve Gorman, says a “national week of mourning” has been declared for all Egypt. He also reports that there is an obvious step-up in the number of visible police and soldiers in the streets of Cairo.
Gorman says PC(USA) co-workers in Egypt thus far do not feel threatened. But they remain cautious and vigilant.
Amgad Beblawi, coordinator for World Mission’s Middle East and European programs, says World Mission staff will remain in close contact with PC(USA) personnel in Egypt.
Gorman asks for prayers. “Please keep Egypt, the Coptic Church and the Sisi government in your prayers. This is a major event of terrorism for this nation. There will be acts of retaliation, and there is mourning.”