Nabil Saber, a Coptic citizen, was shot dead by militants in his barber shop in Arish on Saturday. He had returned to the North Sinai capital only a few days earlier, after fleeing the city in February alongside hundreds of other Copts.
Many Copts in North Sinai have been displaced as a result of an increase in targeted attacks by militant groups, with seven Copts killed in one month alone. Saber’s neighbor Salah Gaballah, among those who fled to nearby Ismailia, told Mada Masr that the barber had returned to Arish to finish some school paperwork for his son.
The area in which he was killed is has a heavy security presence due to a nearby church, the proximity of the Arish police station and the central prison. Mada Masr was not able to reach Saber’s family, who have not yet returned to Ismailia after collecting his body.
According to Gaballah, Saber owned a house, a barber shop and a grocery shop in Arish.
Many of the Coptic families who fled North Sinai have had to return to their homes to collect their possessions. Some have lasted months in Ismailia with no source of income, and must now return to their jobs in Arish, only visiting Ismailia on weekends.
Ezzat Nazmy, one of the Arish Copts taking refuge in Ismailia, told Mada Masr that his uncle had to return to his private security job in Arish despite the dangers, due to the lack of available work opportunities in Ismailia.
“I used to own two houses and a grocery shop in Arish, now I work as a janitor so that I don’t have to ask anyone for anything.”
“Some of the younger people and myself are working in construction, but my uncle and other older people can’t work in this field,” he said.
Nazmy’s family fled Arish after a family member was killed by militants and his body torched earlier this year.
According to Parliamentary Affairs Minister Omar Arafa, the 118 Coptic families that fled Arish have been housed in Ismailia, Qalyubiya, Assiut and Cairo.
They face financial strain due to the limited employment opportunities. Gaballah said that he now works as a janitor: “I used to own two houses and a grocery shop in Arish, now I work as a janitor so that I don’t have to ask anyone for anything.”
The project employing Nazmy will end this month and he doesn’t know how he will earn his income after that.
One of the young men who fled Arish for Cairo told Mada Masr in March that their situation was dire. He pointed to the lack of state support, and the impossibility of returning due to the ongoing danger. In Arish he used to own a business, now he has no source of income. He said that all aid is centered on Ismailia where the highest number of displaced families reside, while the families in Cairo get no help.
He told Mada Masr that by the way of aid the Social Solidarity Ministry gave each family of two a one-off payment of LE850. Compounding the difficulties they face, most have been unable to use their medical insurance and food subsidies in Cairo as they are registered in Arish.
“We don’t know when that is going to happen, or who will determine whether the situation has improved. Our status is ambiguous and we don’t know what will happen.”
Despite receiving more attention, Gaballah says that the families in Ismailia are also struggling and have received no help from the state aside from two dry food cartons sent in February, when they first fled, and sporadic aid from the church. Nazmy and Gaballah both affirm that the state has helped provide rent-free apartments for the displaced families. Nazmy, his parents, wife and daughter all share one apartment in Ismailia.
As all eight family members do not fit in the apartment, one of them left for the family’s hometown in Upper Egypt and another moved to Cairo. According to Gaballah this is the case for many families.
Nazmy said that the rent-free apartments are temporary and their leases expire at the end of June, although the authorities have assured the families that they will be permitted to remain there until the situation in Arish improves.
“We don’t know when that is going to happen, or who will determine whether the situation has improved,” Nazmy said. “Our status is ambiguous and we don’t know what will happen.”
Translated by Heba Afify