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Why are Christian women and girls disappearing in Egypt?

July 5, 2020 by Global Christian Relief in Uncategorized

The one-hour mark came and went, and Shenouda and his family grew worried. Family members called Mirna’s phone, but she never answered. When they checked with the church, priests and other churchgoers said Mirna was never there.

Earlier that day, as Mirna had approached the church, two women and a man sprayed her in the face with potent anesthetics and shoved her into a tuc-tuc (a motorized rickshaw).

She woke up on a train to Cairo. Cleverly, she pretended to be unconscious, and at the next stop, she was able to slip away without her kidnappers noticing.

While Mirna was able to stage an escape from three people who could have easily overpowered her physically, others are not so lucky.

Kidnapping Fears

The panic felt by Shenouda and his family is nothing new for many Coptic families. Over the last several years, hundreds of Christian young women have been reported missing from various communities around Egypt in what World Watch Monitor calls a recurring phenomenon.

Vivian Adel Youssef, 18, never returned from her secondary school.

Briskam Raafat Mikhail Maher, 17, went missing from her grandparents’ house. Her mother had already been taken 10 years ago.

Meray Girgis Sobhy, a second-year student at a local university, never returned home from school.

Rasha Khalaf Thabet Aziz, 18, was shoved into a car by masked men.

Hoda Atef Ghali Girgis, 16, went missing from church.

Mary Adly Milad, 40, a mother of three, never came home from work.

Christine Lamie, 26, was threatened by a stranger on social media, and later disappeared.

These are not isolated incidents. Many go without being officially reported, since some families don’t even file a report for fear of bringing shame on their family. In other cases, police don’t bother to investigate. In 2014,

Many families of Coptic girls who have gone missing believe they were kidnapped by Islamic extremists in an attempt to forcibly make them convert to Islam.

Forced Conversion

The husband of Christine Lami, Bahaa Girgis, recounts the days leading up to and after her disappearance. He says his wife was forced to convert to Islam.

When Christine didn’t return home, Girgis started calling relatives and friends, but no one knew where she was. The next day, he reported his wife’s disappearance to the police. Four days later after hearing nothing, Girgis went back to the police station to ask for an update. He was surprised to hear from the officer on duty that Christine had gone to a police station the day before, filed a report saying that she wasn’t kidnapped and that she had “converted to Islam by her full will.”

Strengthen Islam, weaken Christianity

Last year a former member of a human trafficking ring in Egypt confirmed that kidnappings of Coptic Christian girls and women are likely tied to Muslim extremists.

If all goes according to plan, the women are married off to a strict Muslim–solely so that more women are converted to Islam.

According to a Washington Times article, abductions are part of a campaign to Islamize Egypt’s Christian community. Mary Abdelmassih, a Coptic Christian activist, noted that girls as young as 12 are being kidnapped off Egyptian streets regularly, and during their abductions, Muslims shoot photos of the girls being raped as a means of blackmailing them into converting to Islam.

In other cases, Coptic women are sent to Saudi Arabia or other Gulf states to work as domestic servants, where they are sexually exploited and physically abused.

According to a Global Christian Relief source, an estimated 80 percent of families in these situations do not speak publicly due to shame–and because it makes their other daughters less eligible to find a good partner.

The Next Victims of Persecution in Egypt

In a country where 90 percent of the population is Muslim, Christians in Egypt have been treated as second-class citizens since the advent of Islam in the region.

The rise of radical Islamist groups has only exacerbated Christian persecution, affecting believers in their villages, neighborhoods, and workplaces. Adding to this persecution is the Egyptian state’s low regard for religious freedom and other fundamental rights.

Christians with Muslim backgrounds face enormous pressure from immediate and extended families to return to Islam. Severe restrictions on building or securing places for communal worship are designed to prevent Christians from gathering together, in addition to hostility and violence. Radical imams regularly incite hostility and violence towards Christians, resulting in the deaths and injuries of many believers in the past year alone.

Christian women regularly face discrimination and abuse in their workplaces and the public square.

And as persecution continues in Egypt, Coptic families fear their daughters may be the next victims of kidnapping and forced conversion.

Police Who Don’t Police

In Egypt, a missing person case cannot be filed until a family member or friend has been missing for more than 24 hours. But even after the 24-hour mark, police are in some cases biased against Christians, according to Gahiji. He said police sometimes don’t even open an investigation if they know the victim is a Christian.

This is the situation the parents of Meray are facing. A second-year university student, Meray took a tuc-tuc from her home to go to school, then visit a private tutor and return home.

When she didn’t return at the expected time, nor answer her phone, her father called the tutor only to learn that his daughter had not attended the class. He searched extensively for Meray in every local hospital and then filed a report with the police.

Bringing them back, one at a time

One Coptic priest wasn’t afraid to take the law into his own hands. When his own daughter was nearly kidnapped in 2011, he grabbed his gun and shot in the air twice, scaring the kidnappers away. He has since become an advocate for missing girls and women–and has received threats on his life and family’s lives because of it.