“Welcome to the Province of Sinai.” This is what members of the local Islamic State affiliate told a group of female teachers traveling to their jobs in Rafah after intercepting their bus last Wednesday. The militant group stopped another bus carrying teachers three days later.
One of the teachers, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, said the first incident took place in Abou Shenar, in Rafah, on a road monitored by several military checkpoints.
The teacher recalled that a grey Hyundai Verna intercepted the bus, and three armed men with their faces covered got out. One of them waited outside the bus with the driver, while two climbed aboard. One gave a speech and the other filmed the incident.
He introduced himself as a member of the Province of Sinai’s “committee for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice.” He lectured the teachers on the importance of adhering to an Islamic dress code and following the example of the daughters of the prophet Mohamed, reciting several of the prophet’s sayings.
“They spoke to us for about seven minutes,” she recounted. They asked the group questions like “Do you, Muslim sister, want to go to hell?” After concluding the speech, the armed men got off the bus and drove away in their car.
Several of the teachers approached government officials on Sunday to complain about the incident. The same day the militant group stopped yet another bus carrying female teachers to Rafah.
According to the teacher the group initially didn’t find anyone at the Arish education directorate, so they went instead to the governorate directorate, where they waited from 9am until 3pm before being permitted to meet with officials. They received a phone call from a group of their colleagues while they waited, who informed them that their bus was again stopped by Province of Sinai en route to Rafah.
“The militants intercepted them again and told them that this was their last warning, and that they must adhere to the Islamic dress code and be accompanied by a male relative, or else they will be punished by whipping and acid,” she said. Public whipping is interpreted by some to be mandated in Islamic Sharia as a punishment for moral offenses such as sex outside of marriage.
Those who were accosted on Sunday joined the other teachers at the governor’s office, the source said, at which point he agreed to meet with two representatives from the group. She says that the governor did not initially believe their accounts, becoming convinced only after one of the drivers confirmed their story. The other was too afraid to give his testimony.
The governor permitted the teachers two days off, pledging to reopen the main road so that they may avoid the indirect route they had been previously taking to Rafah.
The main road connecting the cities of Arish, Sheikh Zuwayed and Rafah has been blocked intermittently over the past years. This has become more common in the last four years in particular, as an ongoing conflict has escalated between security forces and militias centered in Rafah and Sheikh Zuwayed on the eastern side of the Peninsula.
The teacher told Mada Masr that the group then with the North Sinai deputy education minister on Monday. He informed them that the head of the Rafah education division didn’t believe them, however he had extended their leave until Thursday and said that he would meet with the governor and security leaders.
Recent months have seen the effects of the conflict in North Sinai increasingly echoed in Arish in recent months. The city has seen an increase in militant attacks and oppressive security measures like house raids and random arrests.
The past few days have seen the forced relocation of hundreds of Coptic families from Arish, fleeing a wave of violence and targeted by Islamic militants against Copts which has killed at least seven in the space of one month. The city has witnessed an increase in militant attacks and oppressive security measures in recent months as the effects of the North Sinai conflict has spread.
Translated by Heba Afifiy