Screen grab of a video posted on YouTube showing Egyptian Copts detained by Libyan militiamen.
Egyptian Copts are up in arms following the suspicious death last Monday of a Coptic Christian in a Libyan prison. The man was part of a group of Egyptian Coptic shopkeepers who have been living in Libya for the last few years and who were arrested by a Benghazi militia several days prior for allegedly “proselytizing”.
On February 26, in Benghazi, a militia of Islamic extremists arrested several dozen Coptic Egyptian nationals believed to be proselytizing. A video uploaded to YouTube shows several men with shaved heads sitting on the floor in a cramped room. In it, a militiaman says that these men are Copt shopkeepers from the Djriadah market in Benghazi who were trying to convince Muslims to convert to Christianity. Several pamphlets and posters featuring Coptic Christian religious figures, including Shenouda III of Alexandria, the recently deceased head of the Orthodox Coptic church, can be seen strewn across a table.
0’44’’: The man holding the camera asks: “When did you catch them?” “This afternoon, we lured them here”. (…) 0’54”: “People started complaining about them. The Muslim Egyptian shopkeepers told us they were cornering the market. They rent for extremely high sums spaces that are worth barely 1,000 to 3,000 Guineh [between 600 and 1,800 euros]. Their only goal is to capture the entire market.”
0’1’8”: Another militiaman explains: “They’re not here for business, they’re here to impose their religion”. A man to his left asks: “About how many are there?” “Around 100”, another man answers. “Did they admit that they were on a proselytizing campaign, or did they tell you this was merely a personal matter?” In response: “These men are not pure - they even denied that these materials were theirs”. He adds: “We caught one of them inside his shop. When we asked him what these materials were doing in his establishment, he replied that they did not belong to him. If he were honest, he would have admitted he was Christian. He has a cross tattooed on his hand.”
At 2’15”: The militiaman states: “We were told that one of them regularly went out of his way to criticize the Prophet, claiming that he had married nine children, etc…” (…) “We heard some of them say, ‘Extremists don’t belong here, and Christians are welcome’. They are waging a war against Islam”. (…)
Tensions increased following the death of one of the detainees on Monday after he was transferred to Tripoli. According to his lawyer, his jailers tortured him to death. Dozens of protesters came out on Tuesday in front of the Libyan embassy in Cairo, where they burned a Libyan flag. In response, on Thursday evening, angry individuals burned down Benghazi’s Coptic church. The church had already been attacked in late February, and a priest and his colleague assaulted.
The Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs announced on Tuesday that 55 of the detained Copts were to be freed soon. Four others, who had been sent to Tripoli, have already been freed and were sent back to Egypt over the weekend. He also announced that he would send a parliamentary delegation and Coptic representatives to Tripoli to investigate the torture accusations.
Since the fall of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the Christian minority in Libya has been living in fear of the rising Islamic extremist movement. Four foreigners -- an Egyptian, a South African, a South Korean, and a Swede, also suspected of proselytizing -- were arrested in mid-February in Benghazi.
Libya is home to the second largest Egyptian migrant population in the world after Saudi Arabia. According to the Egyptian Coptic church, 50,000 Copts currently live in Libya.