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Kidnap, forced conversion and marriage of Egyptian Christian women rising

Country/Region: Egypt, Middle East and North Africa

A new report has found that the cases of Christian girls and women disappearing, being forcibly converted to Islam and married against their will in Egypt have escalated since the Arab Spring uprising.

forced-conversion-egypt-4x3.jpg

The report, Tell My Mother I Miss Her, released on 18 July, was co-authored by Nadia Ghaly, an Egyptian Christian human rights activist, and Michele Clark, a professor at George Washington University.

It found that the Christian community has “become more vulnerable to persecution on account of the upsurge of militant Islam following the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak”, with women in particular at greater risk. The numbers of disappearances and abductions are rising, with fewer girls returning to their families; minors and mothers of young children are increasingly being targeted.

The title of the report was a direct quote from a victim made in a recorded phone conversation to her father after her abduction. “D” disappeared on 20 May 2011. Her mother reported the 19-year-old missing, and later that evening the police came to the family home and told them that D had married a Muslim man.

A month later, D managed to phone her father. Crying down the line, she asks him to tell her mother that she misses her before the teenager is interrupted by someone entering the room. The line goes dead, and when the father calls back, a man answers, saying:

She is unconscious now but let me tell you something, this girl is more important to me than anything else. I swear to God, if something happens to her, I will kill all of you and I will burn the church. You know that I can do that.

D has since phoned her father eight times, saying that she is abused and mistreated, and asking for help to escape. In desperation he told her to cut herself so that she would be taken to hospital, where her family might be able to see her. But a doctor was brought to the house, where she is imprisoned in a room, instead.

D’s case was one of 14 that human rights lawyer Stefanos Milad Stefanos brought before the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior in September 2011, requesting investigations, but there had been no follow-up by the time he met with the report’s authors.

Four lawyers reported over 550 cases asking for the restoration of Christian identity following disappearances, forced marriages and forced conversions over a five-year period, with cases escalating since 25 January 2011, when Arab Spring protests began.    

Tell My Mother I Miss Her follows a report written by the same authors in November 2009 called The Disappearance, Forced Conversions and Forced Marriages of Coptic Christian Women in Egypt. While that report comprehensively outlined the problem, cases are often disregarded by both the Egyptian authorities and the international community; detractors claim that the disappearances are “nothing more than petulant acts of young women seeking to leave oppressive home environments and that there is no criminal activity involved”.

The aim of the new report is to challenge the notion that the testimony of victims is made up of mere allegations, and calls for investigations and strong preventative measures.

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