Egyptian news sources report security forces have wrongly detained two Christians for nearly a month as part of a ruse to cast a Muslim attack on Copts as “sectarian violence.”
Violence broke out last month in the village of Toma, near El-Mahalla El-Kubra in the middle of the Nile Delta, when local Muslims attacked Copts who had rescued Nermeen Mitry, 16; Muslims had kidnapped the Coptic girl and tried to convert her to Islam, according to Assyrian International News Agency (AINA).
Some 150 Muslims attacked five of Mitry’s family members as they drove home to their village following her rescue after the May 21 kidnapping. Police arrested 14 Muslims and 11 Copts. In the course of the violence, a carton recycling warehouse owned by her father was burned down.
Most of the perpetrators have been released, Copts said, while two Muslims and two randomly selected Copts are still detained – a ruse to disguise the one-sided nature of the attack and to keep both sides from causing further disturbances. Hany Haziz, a local watchmaker who participated in reconciliation meetings, asserted that the Minister of Interior ordered the detentions for 45 days to create a false sense of symmetrical “community strife,” according to Coptic News Bulletin.
Coptic activists concurred that the state uses arrests of Copts when Muslims instigate sectarian violence to create a false sense of equivalence.
“This was a balance game; the security services play this every single instance,” said Helmy Guirguis, president of the U.K. Coptic Association. “They must take an equal number, and sometimes they snatch people on the street.”
International and Egyptian news agencies quoted state security forces saying that Mitry was engaged to local Muslim youth Hossam Hamouda, and that their relationship resulted in fierce clashes in the village of 2,000 people.
In addition, a report on Thursday (June 11) from the Egyptian Association for Democracy included quotes from local Muslims who repeated the statements of state security forces. But the authors of the report were not allowed to interview Mitry’s sister.
Some Copts, however, said that Muslim residents of Toma were angry that the kidnapping and attempted forcible conversion of Mitry had failed, as the perpetrators stood to earn money from Islamic groups that pay substantial sums for such conversions.
“The Muslims were angry that the girl escaped Islamization,” an Egyptian journalist told Compass. “There is a lot of money involved in Islamization of Coptic girls, as much as thousands of U.S. dollars, funded mainly by Saudi Arabia and Gulf states.”
Kidnap Victim’s Account
Mitry told the Free-Copts Organization that she was drugged by a Muslim friend and kidnapped, according to AINA.
When she awoke, she was in a house in Zagazig, a city in the eastern Nile Delta, and a bearded Muslim man was trying to convert her to Islam. He was later found to be Essam Abu Deiof Hamoud, a relative of the girl who allegedly drugged Mitry.
“The man was very confident and told me that I would be the fourth Coptic girl to ‘know the true Allah’ and convert to Islam through him,” Mitry told Free-Copts, according to AINA. “I told him, ‘I am engaged to be married when I come of age, and would never convert to Islam,’ as this would be a catastrophe for me. He did his best to make me change my mind.”
One of the abductor’s family members, who knew Mitry’s family, contacted them and told them her whereabouts. Her family came to rescue her from Hamoud.
Police told the family to bring her to the state security directorate, but because they distrusted government forces they instead brought her to the Coptic St. Demiana Convent northeast of Cairo. Egyptian authorities have been known to return Coptic girls to their Muslim kidnappers and summarily close cases.
At press time Mitry was still in the convent waiting until tensions diffuse in Toma. Some Christian advocates believe Copts will arrange a marriage for her before she returns to the village to make her less susceptible to a future kidnapping.
Until then, reconciliation meetings between Copts and Muslims continue under the auspices of the police. No Christian clergy are present.
Such meetings are somewhat customary in Egypt, in which different parties come together to settle legal matters out of court. They carry a social purpose of restoring faith and communal harmony in the face of sectarian tensions. But advocacy groups worry when meetings go beyond easing community tensions and act as a substitute for administrative justice and proper investigation.
Rights groups say that Mitry’s kidnapping is a small part of a larger campaign to rid Egypt of its Coptic element through pressuring conversions or otherwise erasing Christianity in the country.
That campaign includes a recent official decree by the Justice Ministry stating that Abu Hennes, one of Egypt’s few completely Coptic cities, would be renamed Wadi al-Neinaa (Mint Valley). The city’s Coptic legacy dates back to the fourth century, and the site is symbolically important as it is believed to have received Mary, Joseph, and Jesus after their flight from Israel.
On Thursday (June 11), thousands of Copts protested the attempted name change, according to Egyptian Christian weekly Watani. Similar demonstrations occurred in 1979 when former President Anwar Sadat also attempted a name change. In the face of protests, he ultimately backed down.
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