02/17/2015, 00.00
EGYPT - LIBYA - ISLAM

The heart of Egypt moved and devastated

by André Azzam
The beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts has boosted national unity. President al-Sisi called the victims "martyrs" of the homeland. Various dignitaries, including the Vatican representative to Cairo, visited Patriarch Tawadros to offer their condolences. Egypt blocks all visas for Libya and is preparing plans to repatriate 1.5 million of its citizens living in Libya. Salafist movements condemn the violence by the Islamic State group.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - The heart of Egypt has been both moved and devastated by the horrific beheading of 21 Egyptian citizens in Libya at the hands of jihadist allies of the Islamic State group (Daesh).

Yesterday and today, every newspaper in the country dedicated its front-page to the massacre, with titles in black and the pictures of all 21 victims, kneeling on the beach just before they were beheaded. Inside pages were full of commentaries and feature articles on the tragedy.

Although Daesh boasted of killing of Christians, in Egypt, the victims are seen primarily as Egyptians. To commemorate them, the government has decreed seven days of national mourning.

Yesterday, President Sisi personally met with Coptic Patriarch Tawadros, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church and patriarch of Alexandria, to offer official condolences. Egypt's National Defence Council, chaired by the president, has been meeting for days to determine how to deal with the situation.

President Sisi announced that the 21 Egyptians killed in Libya are true "martyrs", like their fellow citizens recently killed in the Sinai. He also said that each family would receive 100,000 Egyptian pounds (about US$ 13,000), plus a regular pension and medical care for every member.

The victims came mostly all from villages in Upper Egypt and had emigrated to Libya to earn some money to get married or support their families back home.

Tawadros was joined by Al-Azhar University in denouncing "the awful crime." Shaykh Ahmad al-Tayeb, head of Al-Azhar, the highest Sunni authority, as well as the Grand Mufti of Egypt Shawqi 'Allam stressed that Islam and the heavenly religions do not justify such crimes. The Coptic patriarch noted that the nation would not rest until the criminals were punished.

Meanwhile, the families of the victims, from different villages in Minya (Middle Egypt), have been demanding that the bodies of their loved ones be returned for burial.

For days, they have gone to the seat of the patriarchate, always welcomed by Tawadros. Two days ago, when reports that the 21 Copts had been murdered, they held a demonstration outside the headquarters of the Press Union building.

Tawadros received many visitors yesterday who, privately or in their official capacity, came to offer their condolences (pictured). They included the chargé d'affaires of the Vatican Nunciature, accompanied by Fr Rafic Greiche, spokesman of the Catholic Church in Egypt.

In the evening, Pope Francis himself personally phoned Tawadros, and told him that he would join Egypt's Christians in prayer. Many visitors also met with the families of those killed to bring them some moral support.

Mixed with a sense of pain, everyone in Egypt is happy that the Egyptian Air Force carried out strikes against Daesh bases in Libya. Egyptians expect more attacks against "the terrorists".

For the past several weeks, Egypt has been waiting anxiously for reports on Egyptians seized by jihadists in Libya. In late December, news came that an Egyptian family - a Coptic doctor, his wife and their 13-year-old daughter had been killed because they were Egyptian and Christian. Since then, Egyptian media and public opinion have been calling for all Egyptians to leave Libya.

Currently, at least 1.5 million Egyptians live in Libya. In Egypt, everyone wants to see them safely repatriated. Meanwhile, the president ordered the Ministry of Labour and Emigration to stop issuing exit visas for Libya and promised to help Egyptians come home.

For weeks, the public and the media, concerned with the situation, have also been calling on the government for action to rescue the hostages. A few days ago, Libya's representative in the Arab League offered words of condolence to the families of the hostages, but this was not reported. The head of a Libyan tribe involved in the negotiations expressed faint hopes for their release. In fact, no one knows exactly when the beheading took place.

On the streets, there is widespread concern for what is happening. However, a feeling of national unity has appeared vis-à-vis the threat represented by the jihadist movement. Even fundamentalist Muslim leaders have slammed the murders.

"This terrible crime bonds Egyptians more and more," said the head of the Salafist al-Nûr movement. All of Egypt's political parties and Islamic religious groups are united in condemning the murders and Daesh's attacks against Egypt and Egyptians.

Pending further developments, no one in Egypt can rest until those responsible for the decapitations are punished.

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