11 July 2011
A crowd of hardline Muslim Salafis gathered in front of the public prosecutor’s office in Minya demanding that two underage Coptic women who had gone missing some five weeks ago should not be handed to the Church.
The 17-year-old Christine Ezzat Fathy and her 14-year-old cousin Nancy Magdy Fathy, who had left their homes in the village of Nazlet Ebeid in Minya, Upper Egypt, were rumoured to have converted to Islam. They were found by the police with a Muslim family in Cairo and, upon their request, were placed in a shelter for young women. It was circulated that the girls had eloped, wished to convert to Islam and marry the Muslim men with whose family they were staying. Since Christine and Nancy are underage and thus legally neither eligible to marry or to convert, and since they were afraid their fathers would punish them harshly for their elopement, they asked to be placed in a shelter.
Last Wednesday, the police took the girls to the premises of the National Council for Motherhood and Childhood in the Cairo suburb of Maadi where they met their fathers. The lawyer and rights activist Naguib Gabrail attended the meeting which lasted for more than two hours, and said that the girls, who did not wear the Islamic veil—hijab—but had their hair uncovered, met their fathers with warmth and affection. They called their mothers in Minya, the first such contact since they went missing last month. It was decided, he said, that the two girls would undergo counseling while at the shelter they are in, to help them come to terms with the dilemma they have been through and to prepare them to ultimately go back home.
Wagdy Halfa, the lawyer representing the two girls, criticised the recent Salafi protests, saying that the incident of the young women had nothing to do with the Church. It was, he said, in the first place a social problem that was being handled according to the Child’s Law which stipulates that minors ought to be handed to their parents. All the Church did, Halfa said, was to attempt to calm down matters when the girls’ families in Minya had missed their daughters and were demanding that they should be found. The Church, he said, was working to prevent any possible violence; it never asked for the girls to be handed over to the Church neither did the authorities offer to do so.
The Salafis, Halfa said, appear to be striving to place the issue in a sectarian perspective. This, he said, is unacceptable. The only acceptable manner for the case to proceed, he said, was through upholding the rule of law.