In February 42-year-old Nabil Saber left his home and the barber shop where he made his living, removed his kids from their schools in Arish and fled to Port Said, alongside tens of Coptic families that were compelled to leave the city after an increase in targeted attacks by militants.
Since he and his family fled, Saber was forced to return to Arish twice to process the paperwork that would allow his son to sit for his school exams in Port Said. The second visit cost him his life. Militants shot him once in the head, and once in the chest, making him the latest victim in a killing spree targeting Coptic Christians in the North Sinai capital.
In February it was reported that seven Sinai Copts were killed in one month alone.
Saber and his family had settled in a narrow room in a youth hostel that the Port Said authorities allocated for displaced Copts. However, they had no source of income, and no schools for their children.
“Under these circumstances, who is responsible for coordinating between different districts and government institutions? The people who are threatened with death, or the state?”
In a family member’s house in Cairo, where the burial procedures took place, Reda recounts that his brother Saber’s primary concern over the past months was ensuring his 12-year-old son’s academic future. He submitted a request to the Port Said education directorate, requesting that he be permitted to sit his exams, but the officials required his academic record from Arish.
Makram Kamel*, another displaced Copt who fled to Port Said, returned to Arish several times in the past months volunteering to run errands for others. He was in the city when Saber was killed. Kamel says that the displaced residents were taken aback by Port Said schools insisting that they submit official academic records from Arish.
“Under these circumstances, who is responsible for coordinating between different districts and government institutions? The people who are threatened with death, or the state?” Kamel wonders.
Despite the dangers, Saber didn’t have a choice and traveled to Arish to obtain the required paperwork. He subsequently returned to Port Said, relieved at having returned safely from his mission. However, an employee rejected his son’s academic record as it didn’t have the necessary official stamp, according to Kamel. Saber told the official that he was a Copt who had fled violence in Arish and faced lethal danger upon returning to the city, however his plea was ineffective.
According to Kamel, the employee insisted on obtaining the proper stamp, telling Saber that his son would fail if he didn’t get it.
Zaki Samuel also had to risk his life and that of his children due to the rigidity of education officials.
Zaki Samuel, another Coptic resident of Arish who fled to Cairo says that he too had to risk his life and that of his children due to the rigidity of education officials. He had to return to Arish in order for his children to be able to take their exams.
Samuel says: “We arrived in Cairo in February, and since then no officials have asked us about our housing needs, work opportunities or anything else.”
The church helped the family find an apartment for LE800 per month, he says, but they have been without income since relocating and are now surviving on help provided by relatives and others.
Samuel tried to use his state-issued subsidies card in Cairo but faced similar challenges, with relevant authorities requiring paperwork from Arish. Eventually he had to return there and face the danger.
“God is present here and there, I had no choice,” he says. “I had to return with my kids so that they could take their exams, otherwise they would have lost their academic future.”
Instead of returning with his children as Samuel did, Saber decided to go back alone to acquire the necessary stamp.
“I had to return with my kids so that they could take their exams, otherwise they would have lost their academic future.”
Reda describes his brother’s killing, as told to him by their neighbors: “Masked men riding a motorcycle stopped in front of his store and called his name … ‘Nabil’ … and when he turned around, they shot him.”
Kamel says that Saber called him five minutes before he was killed, telling him that he had finally obtained the required papers, checked on his house and shop, and would be returning to Port Said soon.
Shortly after, calls flooded Kamel’s phone, asking about Saber whose phone was disconnected. Kamel hurried to the barbershop and found him lying in a pool of blood.
Upon visiting his family in in Port Said, Kamel found Saber’s wife in a state of shock that impaired her speech and his son in a fit of crying.
His children’s future is now uncertain, as they have lost their provider, and their academic prospects remain threatened by bureaucratic demands.
*Makram Kamel’s name has been changed to protect his identity.
Translated by Heba Afify