02/26/2015, 00.00
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The pain of the families of the 21 beheaded Egyptian martyrs, praise for Egypt's offensive in Libya

by André Azzam
This is the story of the last conversations the families had with the 21 Egyptian Copts killed by Islamic State militants. Some of them were planning to go home, fearing tensions and growing extremist violence. Family members express regret that the prime minister and village authorities did not visit.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - This is the third and final instalment in a report by our correspondent in Egypt. The events of the last few days include the devastation of several churches and villages in Syria, the rape and murder of women, the abduction of more than 150 Assyrian Christians, including women, children and the elderly by of the Islamic State (IS) militants.

Against the backdrop of the growing tensions in the Islamic world, the families of the 21 martyred Egyptian Copts mourn the death of their loved ones, united in prayer and remembrance. Those who were killed had gone to Libya seeking work, and left behind their poor villages to provide a better education to their children and build a better future for their families. (For the first part click here; for the second, click here).

The parents of Milâd Sâber, the martyr who invoked the name of Jesus Christ at the moment of his decapitation, live in the remote and godforsaken village of Menbal, devastated by grief. They are peasants.

His mother recalls the last phone call from her son. ''Usually my husband takes his cell phone with him to the fields. This day, he forgot the device at home. Therefore, I decided to bring it to him. On my way to the fields, the phone rang, I answer and my beloved son asked, 'Mother, do you need anything?' I answered, 'I want everything to be good with you. We are told the situation is not good there, come back my son.' He answered, 'Don't worry Mother. Let God protect us and whatever is set for us shall happen.'

Sporting a pained smile, she adds, ''Having one of ours as a martyr in heaven is a huge blessing and a big grace that we don't deserve. . . I will not forget his last words, 'I am coming back, Mother, bless me and find me a beautiful wife . . .'."

Milâd was the third one of four sons. The elder son, Hani, said that he got his secondary diploma in trade in 2010 and went to Libya early in 2010 to be a painter in construction. His workday used to start at 7.00 in the morning until sunset and he lived along with eight Egyptian Coptic fellows in a small flat of three rooms, seven kilometres west of Sirte. "I am sad not to have been able to join him because of lack of place."

In the distant village of Dafash lives the family of Ezzat Boshra Nassîf, who was also a painter in construction in Libya. His widow, Myriam says, "Our house was tiny. He hoped to enlarge it. He especially hoped to send our daughter Jouvanya to a private school, because he had to stop his studies after six years of primary school."

The phone calls between them never stopped because of the Viber programme that allows long conversations without any fees. Myriam was sending him dozens of pictures of their daughter. In their last call, he told her, "I am leaving at ten o'clock this morning. I am bringing some sweets and chocolates for our daughter as well as a TV, a rug, a bedcover made of good wool and many cell phone devices. The moment I reach the border at As Solloum, I'll call you. Please prepare some grilled chicken for me because I am bored with the dull menus of exile. I am looking forward to seeing our angel Jojoe''. But fate decided differently.

''Our daughter is asking me: 'Why is Jorje wearing black clothes.' I answer: 'Because the other ones have to be washed.' She answers: 'No, it is because my father is flying to heaven''. . .

In Al-Souby village, the family of Malâk Farag Abrâm, who had a diploma in agriculture and died before he reached 30, is united in mourning. His father explains that Malâk had married a year and a half ago and that he had to go to Libya while his wife was pregnant for a few months. "Their daughter is about nine month old now," he said. "He decided to go to work in Libya in order to help me and his sister who has been engaged recently as well as his young brother. I did not want him to go, because of the situation there. But he reassured me, telling me that the trouble are in Tripoli and not in Sirte where the situation is quiet. He was always asking about his daughter: 'Is she pretty, to whom does she look like?' I told him: 'Like your sister Madonna.' He was happy with that, but unfortunately, we were not able to send him any pictures."

Maqârius village is farther away. There in a small house of two rooms built with mud bricks. Lots of people are surrounding Sâmeh Salâh's widow who is telling them about her last contact with him. ''He wanted to talk to his sister and see her through the phone. He asked her to wake up her son Shenuda, because he wanted to see him. Then he asked for our daughter Marianne, 14 months old. He begged me to pray for him, as if he felt he would never see us again." Next to her is sitting Sâmeh's uncle who took care of his nephew since his childhood after his father died and his mother went away to remarry. ''We had always heard about the era of the martyrs," he said, "Now, we are living it concretely."

The small neighbouring village of Samsoum shelters the family of Guergues Samîr, the eldest of its children. ''He was so good, without any mischievousness," says his mother. "We got him engaged to my sister's daughter and we bought the gold needed. I wanted him to come back because his marriage was set for eight months from now. But he told me: 'It is better I work hard during this period'. We did not have the opportunity to give him our wishes for Christmas, but he is now in Paradise''.

"His father remembers how his son used to climb with his cousin behind me on the donkey and I would bring them to school every day in another village. I would like so much to have a school built here in our village. We would call it the ''School of the Martyrs''. He could not go the Saudi Arabia because all of us suffer from Hepatitis B."

To reach Al-Gabâly village, also known as Manqatîn, one has to get on the back of a semi-truck, the only way to reach the village, where everyone is united in the Church mourning the two martyrs of the village, Louqâ Nagâty and Essâm Baddâr. The priest is repeating some verses from the Scriptures. Next to the Church is Louqâ's small house, where many women surround his widow, which is not yet 20. Smiling, she says with emotion and a bright face: "We were a real close couple, in total fusion, united in Christ. He was so nice and tender and dreamt of a better life for us. Here is our daughter of eleven months. We got married on the 16th of June 2013. We lived together for four months and six days and he remained in Libya for one year and a half''.

Next to Louqâ's father stands Essâm's father. Both of them said they regretted that no official paid a visit to the mourning village. Still, everybody is satisfied with the states reprisals against the martyrs' killers.

As Hâni Sâber said in Menbal, expressing the feeling of all the people in the other villages, ''It is a pity that the prime minister did not come to our village. It would have been nice to see him reach out to our villages and see how people live here, see the precariousness of the roads and understand why young people here feel the need to go to work in Libya or elsewhere''.

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