In CS Releases & Articles

By Raymond Ibrahim – Coptic Solidarity –

Yet another Coptic Christian girl has “disappeared,” with the authorities abetting the kidnapper(s) in Egypt.

On Jan. 22, 2024, Irene Ibrahim Shehata, 21, disappeared in between mid-term exams at the Faculty of Medicine at Assyut National University, where she was a second year student. Her frantic family immediately went to police.  Although charges were eventually brought against a man whose identity is concealed, from the start, police were uncooperative and even hostile to the family.

In a recent interview from Feb. 17, the father provided more disturbing (but not unusual) information. Although State Security provided him with several leads to his daughter, causing him to travel up and down Egypt with his son, none have proved fruitful.  Moreover, he said that “State Security knows exactly where my daughter is,” but because—according to them—she ran off with a Muslim man on her “own accord,” they refuse to act, including by letting her father speak to or meet with her to confirm the truth of State Security’s information. 

Instead, the father told of a phone call that occurred between his daughter and one of his sons, where Irene cried and then a man yanked the phone away from her and said, “Okay, you heard her voice and know she’s okay, right?—now go to hell!” and slammed the phone. 

The father further stressed that, if Irene had intended to run off with a Muslim man, why would she do it in between exams, and while carrying medical supplies (as opposed to travel gear, for example).

After being prodded on by the interviewer for more information, Irene’s father said, “Look, I have information which if I shared would cause Egypt to catch fire,” though he was reluctant to divulge for fear of state reprisals. 

This latest incident is just one of countless in Egypt. Indeed, during this same recent interview, the father said that six other Christian girls “disappeared” from his region in one recent month alone. 

Most recently, on Feb. 29, the family of Irene issued a statement saying that “the data of the religion field on her ID was unwillingly changed to Muslim. It is another way to force families to give up.”  The family also made perfectly clear that they have confirmed that a Muslim Brotherhood network—with a complicit State Security—is behind the abduction of Irene and many other Coptic girls, which was described as “an organized terrorist group led by the Muslim Brotherhood to kidnap Christian girls in the Middle East.”

This entire phenomenon and process is well discussed in a 2020 report by Coptic Solidary (CS).  Fifteen-pages long and titled “‘Jihad of the Womb’: Trafficking of Coptic Women & Girls in Egypt,” it documents “the widespread practice of abduction and trafficking” of Coptic girls.  According to the report:

The capture and disappearance of Coptic women and minor girls is a bane of the Coptic community in Egypt, yet little has been done to address this scourge by the Egyptian or foreign governments, NGOs, or international bodies. According to a priest in the Minya Governorate, at least 15 girls go missing every year in his area alone. His own daughter was nearly kidnapped had he not been able to intervene in time….  The rampant trafficking of Coptic women and girls is a direct violation of their most basic rights to safety, freedom of movement, and freedom of conscience and belief. The crimes committed against these women must be urgently addressed by the Egyptian government, ending impunity for kidnappers, their accomplices, and police who refuse to perform their duties. Women who disappear and are never recovered must live an unimaginable nightmare. The large majority of these women are never reunited with their families or friends because police response in Egypt is dismissive and corrupt. There are countless families who report that police have either been complicit in the kidnapping or at the very least bribed into silence. If there is any hope for Coptic women in Egypt to have a merely ‘primitive’ level of equality, these incidents of trafficking must cease, and the perpetrators must be held accountable by the judiciary.

Since the publication of that CS report in September 2020, matters have only gotten worse.  As a later report notes, “In Egypt, kidnappings and forced marriages of Christian women and girls to their Muslim abductors has reached record levels.”

Discussing this latest case, CS said in a statement:

This sour issue was raised during a meeting in Oct. 2021 in Washington, D.C., with Ms. Moushira Khattab, (then newly appointed) president of Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights. Specifically, Coptic Solidarity said that we support freedom of religion (and conversion) for all, provided that this principle applies equally to all confessions in Egypt. We deplored the bias of State Security who typically shield the culprits and prevent families from seeing their disappeared loved ones.

We proposed that the NCHR—acting as a neutral/independent body—would be charged with meeting with “converts” to ensure that they—as major adults—have been acting freely, with no coercion or luring, and that minors be returned immediately to their families. Ms. Khattab sounded agreeable, if not enthusiastic, to the proposal, and promised to come back on it soonest.

(Note that, ‘Advice and Guidance’ sessions was a practice decreed in 1863 by Khedive Ismail, since ‘any Christian converting to Islam was not welcome unless both a priest and a Christian layman confirmed the beyond-doubt earnestness of his or her wish to convert.’ That practice has been revoked by the Ministry of Interior in 2004.)

More than three years later, the NCHR remains totally silent about our proposal, even as more and more young Coptic girl continue to be targeted. If Ms. Khattab ever tried, her attempt must have been blocked by the powerful State Security, who want to keep sole control.   

In short, another war of attrition has been launched against Egypt’s beleaguered Christian minority: the abduction and Islamization of their daughters—with what, by all counts, appears to be State help.

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