Said Fayez is an Egyptian court of appeals lawyer, human rights defence lawyer and a Coptic activist. He has looked after the rights of persecuted Copts in his country for eight years now.
By ACN Poland
Translation reviewed by Mark Riedemann
Christian girls and women being kidnapped by Muslims – how serious a phenomenon is it in present Egypt?
There are many such Islamic cells in Egypt fully occupied with kidnapping Coptic girls. It’s an international crime that should be named for what it is: kidnapping – such that the person disappears and nobody knows anything about her. It’s a crime- a multi-faceted crime. Disappearances, blackmail and extortion. Nobody knows the consequences. We learned about the scale of the problem from the girls that returned. How they lay in wait for such a girl, right up to the moment of her disappearance, for those three or four months, five months, six months. How they exert pressure on her.
Can you give an example?
There is much to tell, for example one case that I worked on was a Christian girl who taught at the institute and then suddenly disappeared. She managed to get back after a while so that we found out who was behind all this. And he married her. She returned to her parents pregnant. He kept her family under observation for some time until he succeeded in organising a gang of hooligans who entered the girl’s house and once again took the girl from her parents by force. When I studied this boy and his story I noticed that he was twenty-nine years old, had a higher education diploma, which means that he was from the middle class. The boy, though only twenty-nine years old, was listed in the registry office as having been married six times. Five of those was with a Christian who had converted to Islam. You can imagine what happened. What was strange was that these marriages lasted a year, after which they would gather their belongings and go to Saudi Arabia, to return after the divorce. This was one of the more difficult cases. What I want to say is that there exists a kind of trade in humans, or trade in women.
It also happens to under-aged girls?
Yes. We have a very serious case, that of Nadia Makram, a fourteen year old girl, who quite simply disappeared one day. Her mother looked for her, and is well aware that she had been kidnapped by a forty-eight-year-old man. And so she rushes to find out what had happened, only to learn, from his siblings, that he had married her. Legally, the act is inadmissible. And any sexual relations with her will be regarded as rape, even if she acquiesces. That is Egyptian law. Because she is underage, and that means she is incapable of making such a conscious decision, which is why it is rape. Up to now, for over a year, we have been unable to bring criminal charges against this man, even though we know his whereabouts and that of his family. We were unable to meet the girl throughout the whole of last year, even to spend five minutes with her. To ask her what she really wants, and how she feels. Nadia is not the only one.
Often the girls and women are forced to convert to Islam, right?
Yes. Cases of forced conversions to Islam began appearing in Egypt at the beginning of the nineteen seventies; ever since Islamic groups and sharia groups appeared on the scene. But let’s take an example from last year. The girl lived in the town of Aszer [translators note: full name is Aszer men Ramadan; meaning 10th of a Ramadan], her name was Jacqueline Ibrahim. Jacqueline Ibrahim was persecuted by somebody named Szukri Abdel Fattah. He forced her to leave her home. Once she had left, the harassing phase began.“If you go back I’ll kill you… if you go back anything might happen to you”, and then the pressure phase, that lasted twenty-five days… by the Salafists from Alexandria. Everything to force her to go to the Al-Azhar [translators note: centre of Islamic learning and University in Cairo] and declare her conversion to Islam.
An example of total violation of her faith and convictions, denying her any opportunity to discover, and herself declare, what she wants. What is happening in Egypt is exactly that, coercion. And that is the greatest catastrophe.
Those kidnapped girls who converted to Islam, can they become Christians once they return to their families?
We have a problem that when the girl is pregnant her child would be taken away from her because according to Egyptian law, small children remain with the parents who practice the “true faith”- and according to them that faith is Islam. So the situation is such that she will have to be prepared to give up her child – which we all know no mother would want. This effectively forces her to continue. As concerns people returning to Christianity, we have submitted around five thousand applications in the last eighteen months for the single purpose of obtaining the right for Christians to return to their Christian faith.
Do you know of any statistics that record the annual number of such kidnappings?
Before the revolution it could have been six or seven girls throughout Egypt. But after the revolution the numbers greatly increased, well into the thousands. But this is not about girls converting to Islam, but about girls suddenly disappearing, and nobody knowing anything about them.
How many of these cases have you handled, of these disappearances?
There are many such cases. You refer to those that I have had handled, I believe about three hundred and eighteen cases, something around that number. To get a good idea of these cases, it’s best to look at the numbers that reach the courts every day, throughout Egypt, or at least on a weekly basis. There are at least one, two or three cases.
Does the media talk about this?
The Coptic media is very weak, and official media don’t mention it. Satellite channels, perhaps recently, yes they reported on about one or two cases from the dozens of cases. It comes down to a news item about which a small report is prepared, screened, and that’s it. End of story.