Compass – In a case that has prompted death threats from Muslims, Egypt s top forensic doctor on Tuesday blasted a court physicians report that Coptic Christian Shafik Saleh Shafik had bound and beaten Magda Refaat Gayed before she fled from his Cairo shelter for troubled women.
Dr. Ayman Soda declared that the way in which Gayed was said to have been bound with ropes and chains would have precluded free movement, making it impossible for her to climb out of her second story bedroom window and jump from a height of 11 feet, as she claimed.
The Gayed family had requested that Shafiks safe-house take their daughter, then a 16-year-old Coptic Christian, after she ran away from home with a Muslim man. Two weeks after she had disappeared from home, she was discovered living with a Muslim group that had promised her she could marry the man as soon as she converted to Islam. (See Compass Direct, Egypt Puts Christian Director of Girls Home on Trial, January 13.)
In hearings this past spring, both the court doctor who examined Gayed after her September 6, 2004 escape and the court doctors supervisor had testified that Gayeds story was credible.
In what some expected to be a final hearing yesterday, the three judges of Cairo s Abbassiya Criminal Court No. 15 delayed giving a verdict until October 17.
This is a real turn-around, Shafik told Compass minutes after leaving the courtroom. We proved today that the whole thing is fabricated, but without Dr. Ayman [Soda], everyone in the case was completely against me. I expected seven years in jail.
The defendant said he was confident that the three judges, who had previously insinuated in court that he would be found guilty, were convinced of his innocence. In response to Sodas evaluation, one judge reportedly commented, This would mean everything is a lie.
I am very very sure, God willing, that he [the head judge] is convinced of our case, one of Shafiks lawyers, Naguib Gabriel, explained to Compass. There were too many contradictions in Gayeds story. She claimed that another girl [at Shafiks shelter] was locked like her, but last month that girl testified in court that she had never been chained up.
Gayed also accused Shafik of raping her, but initial tests showed that the young woman had not been violated sexually.
Shafik, fearful that the judges may be under pressure to rule against him because he is a Christian, added, My concern is why they didnt give a judgment today.
With the case drawing attention from Muslim extremists, Shafik said one of the defense lawyers speculated that the top judge needed time to prepare a full explanation for releasing Shafik. Several witnesses for the prosecution had told Gayeds family that if Shafik were declared innocent, they would take justice into their own hands and kill him.
Gabriel, the attorney, admitted that he had been afraid of militant groups forcing the judge to rule against Shafik but no longer had any fears on this account. Today the judge was just busy, he explained. There were 18 cases before him, including a big heroin case.
Members of the Gayed family, who have not seen their daughter since she ran away from Shafiks shelter a year ago, recently learned that Magda Gayed is living at an Islamic foster home in Giza, just outside of Cairo.
Police appear to be cooperating with a Muslim group in foiling the familys attempts to retrieve their 17-year-old daughter who, according to Egyptian law, is still a minor. On three separate occasions police failed to comply with the court judges order that Gayed be brought to trial hearings. On September 9, 2004, police forced Gayeds father and brother to sign a statement saying that they had received Gayed back into their custody.
In addition to charges of rape and abuse, Shafik is also accused of holding Gayed against her and her parents will at his shelter.
Similar to Gayed, many of the 13 young women at Shafiks shelter were convinced by Muslim young men to leave their poor Coptic Christian families and convert to Islam. Reports of such occurrences are common among Egypt s Coptic Christians, who make up approximately 10 percent of the countrys population.
Shafik, a U.S.-Egyptian dual citizen, said he plans to write a small book about his experiences at the shelter, which he founded four and a half years ago, once his trial is over.
I see miracles in my case every day, Shafik said. But he acknowledged that his work has also been riddled with difficulty, and the book is for anyone thinking about starting the same kind of ministry. I want to make sure other people know what they are going to find.