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ICC NOTE: Kidnapping and forced conversion of Christians in Egypt is a lesser known fact but a reality. On Feb 23 another story was posted of a woman being kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam.

Converting Copts? Seeking Civility and Safety in Egypt , Part II

By Sally Bishai (03/01/2006)

For the full article go to:

In yesterday’s column, “Kidnapping Copts,” I wrote of the stream of kidnappings—disputed by some—alleged to occur in modern Egypt . Today, however, I’ll focus on the underlying and undisputable problem, which is that of coerced conversion.

As I said before, I think the true problem is that the Copts aren’t prepared for the eventuality of a kidnapping, despite the fact that all Copts living in the villages and in the Diaspora have heard of these atrocities—the villagers because it happens to them, and the Diasporics because they’re the only Copts who can speak out with any modicum of freedom.

You may have noticed that I left out the mention of Copts living in the city.

You may be wondering why I would do such a thing.

The only answer to that is because many of them simply don’t know.

Since the police—a veritable arm of the government—oftentimes take the opposing side of any struggle involving Copts, the media (also run by the government) can’t really be expected to sound the alarm about someone that their sister organization indirectly helped to keep missing.

I have many friends and contacts in Cairo and Alexandria , and, despite the fact that they’re “closer to the action,” I can tell you that they hear much of their “Coptic Kidnapping News” from me.

And some of them don’t even believe it.

They claim that the girls are runaways who were too chicken to confront their families with an issue that was upsetting them.

They imagine that these girls may have fallen in love with a young man from church, or perhaps, a Muslim who had no interest in converting the girl, and prefer to believe that she merely ran away to make a new life for herself.

This mentality—when applied in a sweeping stroke to all the missing girls—ignores several facts, however.

For one, many girls who are found later have a curious marking on their wrist, where their Coptic tattoo used to be.

This mark is something of a concavity, resulting from the knife—or stone—that excised the cross from their skin.

For example, I recently heard from a lady who related an experience she had in one of the larger—and more cosmopolitan—cities in Egypt last month:

“I have a seventh-floor apartment in a building with one elevator. In my recent trip to Egypt , I was told by the doorman that I’d have to convert to Islam if I wanted to use the elevator. Otherwise, I’d have to pay a thousand dollars. I wondered if he was joking—after all, I’d been away from Egypt for years; maybe the jokes were different now?—but quickly learned that he wasn’t. I made him a counteroffer of half. He declined it and brought out his original offer. I refused, and was forced to cut my stay short because of arthritis in my knees.”

My question would be, was the doorman intent on getting a conversion, or was he using his religion as an excuse to extort money? (This reminds me of the jizia, whereby non-Muslims had to—in the days and years after the Arab Invasion to Egypt —pay this humiliation tax to Muslims.)

Another person I recently spoke with told me of her recent conversations with a girl who had gone missing for a year, and was convinced that this girl—and others—had, indeed, been kidnapped.

I did mention an idea to help prevent future kidnappings, though, didn’t I.

In short, it’s a legal document that will make it impossible to allege that the girl was seduced into leaving, or simply a runaway.

It would be accomplished by having all girls sign a form (in triplicate) stating that they will never breach the official conversion protocol, which means that they would promise to meet with the local priest even once if they were considering a conversion.

Also, that they would contact their families if, in fact, they did want to convert.

It would not be a form promising that they would never convert.

And for those who feel that foreign intervention in Egypt is a four-letter-word, look at it this way: As U.S. Copts Association president Michael Meunier recently told me, “When President Bush calls Mubarak on the phone and says ‘there are some people in jail, I want them out,’ that is foreign intervention, and we can’t say we’re against that because it results in good things, and doesn’t harm Egypt’s image or security.” (For more of my interview with Michael, visit Channel X from .)