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June 27, 2011

Potential Flashpoint in Egypt

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Two girls, 14-year-old Magdy Fathy and her cousin Christine Ezzat Fathy, 16 (above) are at the center of a potential firestorm in Egypt. The girls, Coptic Christians who have converted to Islam without their parents’ permission, have stated that they converted under their own free will. Two Muslim men are under custody in association with their conversion.

The Assyrian International News Agency which has done valuable work in drawing attention to the plight of indigenous populations suffering under Muslim rule in the Middle East provides details about the girls who disappeared on June 12:

Nearly two weeks after they disappeared, Nancy and Christine were found in Cairo wearing Burkas. They were incidentally stopped in the street by a police officer when he noticed that one of them had a cross tattooed on her wrist, as many Copts have. The girls told the policeman they converted to Islam and did not marry any Muslims sheikh as the newspapers said, but fearing the wrath of their parents, they sought shelter at the home of a Muslim man. He issued a report of the incident and let them go.

Nancy and Christine subsequently surrendered at a Cairo police station.

An investigation into their disappearance was launched, as their parents accused two Muslim brothers from a neighboring village of abducting them. They were also asked about the video clip which appeared on the Internet, taken in Tahrir Square, where Nancy and Christine allegedly converted to Islam.

According to the investigators, the Christian minors said they converted to Islam of their own free will, and refused to return to their families, and even applied for protection from them. The prosecution decided to put them in a state care home and provide protection for them, until the completion of the investigation. Authorities also wanted an Al-Azhar scholar to determine if they really believe in Islam.

This has angered their families, who said their girls are minors and should not be subjected to such procedures. Both families and the Egyptian Federation of Human Rights Organization protested on Saturday, June 25 in front of the office of the prosecutor general, and demanded for their children to be returned to them.
Al Azhar and the Fatwa (religious edict) Committee denied that the two Coptic teenagers had converted to Islam, because they are still minors and have not yet reached 18 years of age, as is required by law.

The families' lawyer, Dr Naguib.Gabriel, said the decision to deliver the girls to the state care home belonging to the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood is contrary to the law, because they are still minors, noting that Al Azhar said that it does not recognize their conversion, and therefore the two girls should be returned to their families. Gabriel added that he had made a complaint to the Egyptian Public Prosecutor, on behalf of the families, as they oppose handing Nancy and Christine over to the care home. He explained that the decision taken by prosecution in this case confirms the hypothesis that they converted to Islam, despite that being contrary to the law and the Al-Azhar fatwa.

Dr. Gabriel said that there is a possibility the two girls were subjected to pressure in order to say they converted to Islam of their free will, or they fear the reaction of their families in case they return home, especially since they come from an ultra conservative Upper Egyptian society, where the disappearance of a girl for days is considered a scandal and a shame. He said he will obtain a pledge from their families to protect them, and not to harm them in any way upon their return.

The possibility that the two girls were abducted and have been pressured (read bullied) into affirming their conversion cannot be discounted. Coptic women and girls and Egypt have been regularly abducted, raped, and forced to convert by Muslim men in Egypt. This predatory behavior has been largely ignored by feminists and human rights activists in the West. Christian Solidarity International and the Coptic Foundation for Human Rights documented this problem in a November 2009 report titled simply enough, “The Disappearance, Forced Conversions, and Forced Marriages of Coptic Christian Women in Egypt.”

The opening paragraphs of the report read as follows:

Reports of Muslim men abducting and forcibly marrying and converting Coptic Christian women and girls have filtered out of Egypt with increasing frequency over the past decade. The emerging patterns of force, fraud and coercion correspond to definitions of human trafficking used by the United Nations and the U.S. Department of State, with the UN identifying it as a “crime against humanity”. […] These violations of fundamental human rights appear to be encouraged by the prevalence of cultural norms in Egypt - often rooted in Islamic traditions – that legitimize violence against women and non-Muslims. They appear to be further abetted by the tacit complicity of the government as evidenced by its lack of willingness to thoroughly investigate allegations of rape, abduction and abuse or to reinstate policies designed to protect Egyptians from coerced conversion by educating potential converts of the full implications of conversion.

Details of trafficking cases involving Copts often reach the West through desperately worried relatives of victims. When the Egyptian police fail to find and return (or often even search for) victims of abduction, forced marriage and conversion, some relatives summon the courage to release information and photos to Coptic human rights organizations in the diaspora.

The report also states that the international community has failed to address this issue for fear of being accused of bigotry.

The Islamic world does not readily acknowledge its own discrimination and violence against non-Muslims. Such abuse remains covered in a cloak of silence and tacit acceptance, even though it is against the constitutional affirmations of civil rights.

When non-Muslims call public attention to such violations of human rights, they are often branded as Islamophobes.

AINA’s coverage ends with the following admonition:

"The daily abduction and forced Islamization of Coptic minors, conducted by Muslims funded by Saudi Arabia, has escalated to new levels after the January 25th Revolution," said Coptic activist Mark Ebeid, "and has greatly enraged the Copts. Everyone is now fearing that they might not be able to stand it any longer with the continuous Islamists provocations."

The uptick in forced conversions is accompanied by an increase in acts of violence against Coptic Christians, their homes and their churches in Egypt since the Jan. 25, 2011 Revolution. On Sunday June 26, AINA reported that a mob of 200 people burned eight homes to the ground in response to a rumor that Christians were building a church. And on Friday June 24, a mob surrounded a church and threatened to kill the priest. Again, AINA provides the details.

Eyewitnesses reported the Muslim mob, in their white dresses and long beards, chanted "We will kill the priest, we will kill him and no one will prevent us." One of their leaders said that they will "…cut him to pieces." It was reported that no police or security of any kind was present during the events.

Posted by dvz at June 27, 2011 12:34 PM

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