Copts Claim Egyptian Police Helping Young Women Convert, Marry Muslims
Egypt’s Copts are accusing security authorities of encouraging young women from their minority Christian community to flee their homes and marry Muslim men.
Islam forbids Muslims to convert to another religion, while Coptic Christians, who comprise about 16 percent of the population, are equally adamantly opposed to allowing their offspring to convert in order to marry Muslims. In a country where Muslim-Coptic frictions sometimes spark violence, romances that cross religious lines are therefore considered very sensitive.
In a recent case, two brothers from a Coptic family in Upper Egypt sent a complaint to the International Center for Human Rights, claiming that their 19-year-old sister had disappeared in 1999, then converted and married with police assistance.
In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Albawaba.com, the pair claimed that a Muslim intelligence officer told them that their sister had converted in order to marry a young Muslim.
The two brothers said they subsequently filed complaints with local security officials, the minister of interior’s office, and the office of Coptic Pope Shnoudah, but to no avail.
When the woman finally turned up at a local police station, authorities allegedly forced her family to sign a pledge not to contact her or interfere in her affairs.
The brothers said in their letter that “our heads are down and our neighbors and police oppress us,” adding that the mayor had also threatened them.
In another complaint, an Alexandrian Copt said that his daughter, 17, fled his house in March to marry a Muslim and convert. He accused the head of the local police station of urging the girl to leave her family.
The father said that state security detectives returned the girl to her family in May, but claimed she ran away again using the identity card of her elder sister. He accused the local police of helping the girl with her escape.
In a third case, the lawyer of an Egyptian from Upper Egypt claimed that a Muslim man had kidnapped a 20-year-old Coptic woman in order to force her to convert and marry a person against the will of her guardians.
The lawyer added that the father had sent complaints to all the concerned security and judicial authorities, but they had not taken any action against the alleged kidnapper.
The law is apparently on the side of Coptic parents in this matter, at least according to one human rights group.
Responding to a request submitted by a Copt who said that his 21-year-old daughter had fled his house and converted in 1996, the Cairo-based Legal Aid Center for Human Rights said: “The actions taken after the flight of [the young woman] from her family’s house violate clause No. 4 of the Children’s Law No.12 for 1996, and clauses No. 45, 47 and 109 of Egyptian Civil Law, which bars minors from signing any contracts and forces society to accept their parents’ custody.”
Despite the fact that press reports of such cases have not reached epidemic levels, their common denominator is alleged slackness on the part of the Egyptian police and judiciary authorities in dealing with them.
Critics say authorities have neglected the complaints made by the young womens’ families, except for some limited actions by state security detectives who deal with the matter as a political issue.
Other legal sources told Albawaba.com that the matter was complicated by the fact that Christian fathers lose custody of their daughters once they convert or marry a Muslim.
Coptic-Muslim relations took another blow this month when a newspaper reported that thousands of Copts had obtained asylum in the US by falsifying police reports, claiming that female relatives had been raped by Muslims.
A lawyer who filed a complaint against the paper recently withdrew it, saying the publication of a correction and his response to the article conveyed sufficient good faith to close the matter.
However, a spring tabloid account of an alleged Coptic monk’s supposed sex-and-blackmail ring was enough to send young Copts into clashes with riot police that left several people injured.
Egyptian authorities withdrew the paper’s license and the Egyptian Press Association threw out the concerned editor-in-chief, preventing him from further pursuing his profession.