By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife)– Churches were anxiously awaiting Friday, July 5, whether Egypt’s new president would be able to end massive kidnappings of Christians, many of them Coptic Christian girls, as well as wealthy believers.
The abductions have become a sensitive issue for Adly Mansour who was sworn in as interim head of state during a Cairo ceremony early Thursday, July 4, after Mohammed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president, was placed under house arrest by Egypt’s military and the Constitution was suspended.
Mansour, the former chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, is under pressure to end the kidnappings of as many as hundreds of Christians by especially Salafists, a conservative branch of Islam, allegedly backed by government officials in many cases.
Among the victims over 500 Coptic Christian girls who were reported abducted in Egypt since the revolution against then President Hosni Mubarak began in January 2011, according to independent Christian group Association of Victims of Abduction and Enforced Disappearance (AVAED).
The AVAED said the girls, many between 12 and 14 years old, are often forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men. Salafist sheiks are behind nearly all of the abductions with the help of government officials, according to AVAED investigators.
Even Egypt’s Interior Ministry acknowledges the problem saying in one province alone, Minya, more than 150 people were kidnapped during the past two years. Nationwide, the ministry said the number of kidnappings grew by 145 percent from 2011 to 2012.
The news outlet of Christian aid and advocacy group Open Doors cited money as another motive for kidnappins with two recent cases of Christians adding concern among Egypt’s minority Christians.
Magda Adel Gameel, 19 and in her final year of secondary school in Assyut city in the southern province of the same name, told the group’s World Watch Monitor that she was abducted last month after leaving a pharmacy.
Leaving the store on June 2, she reportedly encountered a veiled old woman, who complained of leg pain and asked Magda to help her walk to her car. As Magda leaned into the vehicle, she was allegedy sprayed with something that knocked her out and during the drive, when she regained her consciousness, was sprayed again.
The young woman was quoted as saying that she awoke in an empty room without her necklace, handbag and cell phone.
A veiled woman allegedly entered the room with some food, and Magda spoke up in protest. The woman apparently ordered her to remain silent and during trips to the bathroom, Magda’s eyes were blindfolded.
Following a tense week, Magda said she was ordered to speak by telephone with a man who her abductors claimed was her father.
“This is not my father,” she told a veiled woman, who reportedly hit Magda and said she should demand the ransom payment. Magda did as she was told, but the man apparently said his daughter had not been kidnapped and was with him now.
The abductors soon realized they had the wrong Magda, from a less well-off family, World Watch Monitor said. On June 11, the veiled woman reportedly entered the room, and knocked her out with the spray.
She found herself near a road in the desert. She said she began to pray and soon saw a taxi on the road. She waved it down, and told the driver the story.
“Where are we?” Magda was quoted as asking the driver. They were on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road, near Alexandria, in northern Egypt. The cab took her into the city, where she called her father. Though he reportedly informed police, no suspects were detained yet on Friday, July 5. Magda, home and safe, missed her final exams.
Her ordeal began the same day that Jessica Nady Gabriel, 7, went missing at her uncle’s wedding. One week later, ransom paid, she was returned home.
Christians said the girl was kidnapped after attending the June 2 wedding party of her uncle and his new bride at the Saraya Wedding Hall in Talkha, a Nile River city in northern Egypt.
The party went into the evening, but by 10 p.m. the family realized that Jessica was missing. “Then her father went to the police station to report her missing,” without immediate result, World Watch Monitor said.
For the next four days, hundreds of Copts reportedly gathered in front of the Talkha police station to demand justice. A few days later, the kidnappers called the family demanding 650,000 Egyptian pounds (about US $92,000), 12 times the amount the average Egyptian earns in a year, Christians said.
The family and relatives pooled their money, though they didn’t reveal how much, and paid the captors. The girl was returned on June 21.
Christian men have been targeted too. Ezzat Kromer’s resistance to his kidnappers did not last long. One of the masked gunmen fired a round between his feet as he sat behind the wheel of his car and said with chilling calm, “The next one will go into your heart, the Christian gynecologist told The Associated Press (AP) news agency earlier this year.
He recalled how he was bundled into his abductors’ vehicle, forced to lie under their feet in the back seat for a 45-minute ride, then dumped in a small cold room while his kidnappers contacted his family over a ransom. For the next 27 hours, he allegedly endured beatings, insults and threats to his life, while blindfolded, a bandage sealing his mouth and cotton balls in his ears, before he was released.
Egyptian Church leaders and human-rights activists say Egypt’s government, which until this week had been dominated at the federal and regional levels by the Muslim Brotherhood, created room for Islamist criminals to prey on Christians with little fear of prosecution.
Christian frustration and wider complaints about lawlessness and economic decline were among grievances that prompted millions of Egyptians to participate in massive protests that eventally forced President Mohamed Morsi out of office.
Besides concerns over kidnappings, Coptic Christians, who comprise roughly 10 percent of Egypt’s mainly Muslim population, have complained about a lack of places of worship in several parts of Egypt.
Just before his ouster, Morsi’s administration allowed the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul to be built in New Nubaria, Beheirah Province. Local Christians said it was an act meant to smooth ties with the Christian minority ahead of a series of anti-Morsi protests that started Sunday June 30.
They noted that the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul is the only one Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Freedom and Justice Party, has approved for construction since he took office. Christian human rights activists also note that it took 17 years to get approval, and that construction hasn’t begun.
The latest difficulties and earlier reported deadly violence that killed dozens of believers in the last two years have attributed to thousands of Christians leaving Egypt. Amid a dwindling Christian population, church leaders have expressed worries over possible more hard-line Islamic influence in the country.
It’s now up to Adly Mansour to proof they’re wrong.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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