Mounting crisis in Libya as hundreds try to flee violence

by
03 March 2011

by Gerald Butt Middle East Correspondent

CHURCHES and Christian groups in Libya and Egypt are struggling to cope with the humanitarian chal­lenges presented by the turmoil in the two countries (News, Comment, 25 February).

Many hundreds of foreigners in Libya, where the army has tried to sup­press the widespread popular re­volt, have sought refuge in Roman Catholic churches in Tripoli and Benghazi. A large number of those seeking help are migrants from other African countries who were hoping eventually to reach Italy or other EU states.

The RC Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli, Bishop Giovanni Innocenzo Mar­tinelli, said that the main concern was for “hundreds of Eritreans who are stranded here and no one cares for their evacuation. We are appealing to all to help these people.” Italy agreed to take 54 of the stranded Eritreans, and there were scuffles at Tripoli air­port when dozens of others tried to reach the plane taking them to Rome.

Bishop Martinelli said that he had “entered contact with the Red Cres­cent and other Muslim organisations to appeal for protection of our churches, of the convents, of our faith­ful, and of the sisters who work in the hospitals”.

Fr Daniel Farrugia, of St Francis of Assisi’s, in Tripoli, stressed that he and his colleagues had no intention of leaving: “We feel we belong here with our Sisters who are giving their ser­vices in social centres. Their work is so much appreciated by the Libyans.”

Although the future of Libya is far from clear, as Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is defiantly holding on to his power base in Tripoli, a degree of normality is returning to life in Egypt. Nevertheless, there are still problems that church groups are helping to re­solve. These stem from the economic hardships faced by the millions of people who have not been able to find work since the revolution, and also from a lack of security.

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu is reported to be confident that Colonel Gaddafi's opponents will succeed in bringing fredom to their country. Speaking on behalf of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders that includes Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi, Dr Tutu welcomed the UN security council's unanimous vote to refer Libya to the International Criminal Court, and said:

“This is a moral universe – the Libyan people have right on their side and I am confident that they will succeed in their quest for freedom. I admire their courage in facing up to a leader who has in effect declared a brutal war on his own people to cling to power.“Gaddafi must recognise the truth – that the people of Libya are demanding change and he cannot stand in their way.”

The Bible Society in Egypt is ap­pealing for financial donations to help it to deal with the current crisis. “People feel empowered because they have broken the bonds of a totalitar­i-an system,” the general secretary of the Bible Society in Egypt, Ramez Atallah, said. “But, while the revolu­tion has been inspired by a revolt against corruption and injustice, we know that true reformation of life­style and values can only be achieved when people’s hearts are changed by the Holy Spirit.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is reported to be confident that Colonel Gaddafi's opponents will succeed in bringing fredom to their country. Speaking on behalf of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders that includes Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi, Dr Tutu welcomed the UN security council's unanimous vote to refer Libya to the International Criminal Court, and said:

“This is a moral universe – the Libyan people have right on their side and I am confident that they will succeed in their quest for freedom. I admire their courage in facing up to a leader who has in effect declared a brutal war on his own people to cling to power.“Gaddafi must recognise the truth – that the people of Libya are demanding change and he cannot stand in their way.”

The Bible Society in Egypt is ap­pealing for financial donations to help it to deal with the current crisis. “People feel empowered because they have broken the bonds of a totalitar­i-an system,” the general secretary of the Bible Society in Egypt, Ramez Atallah, said. “But, while the revolu­tion has been inspired by a revolt against corruption and injustice, we know that true reformation of life­style and values can only be achieved when people’s hearts are changed by the Holy Spirit.”

The group is facing a shortfall of £93,000. To give sup­port, phone 08459 272120, or visit www.biblesociety.org.uk/egypt.

The Anglican diocese in Egypt with North Africa & the Horn of Africa is also continuing to appeal for finan­cial support for its seven community development centres, which provide help to the poor. Details of how to make donations can be obtained from the director of finances for the dio­cese, Raouf Zekry (raoufzekry@hotmail.com; www.dioceseofegypt.org/english/specialappeal).

One of the biggest problems faced by Egyptians and foreigners in Cairo and elsewhere is insecurity. The public has lost respect for the police, who, in turn, are reluctant to in­ter-vene to prevent criminal acts because they are frightened of being set upon by angry crowds.

The Revd Paul-Gordon Chandler, Rector of St John the Baptist’s, in the Maadi district of Cairo, is back at his post after leaving Egypt for a time at the height of the revolution (News, 11 February). He says that, despite the optimism, “even on the calmest of days there are definitely far fewer police around, and on rough days the police disappear altogether for fear of their own lives.

“Hence we are hearing about a good bit more crime taking place, especially at night — everything from muggings to pickpocketing, stealing of purses, and even much more serious.”

In short, the revolutions them­selves are only the start of a much longer and possibly even more dif­ficult process. Removing dictator­ships is one thing, but finding another form of governance that meets the as­pirations of the people while guaran­teeing their security and economic well-being is another.

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