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Maher El-Gohary and daughter apply for asylum in France.

4/21/2011 Egypt (Compass Direct News) – A father and daughter who fled Egypt to Syria after spending two and a half years in hiding for becoming Christians have arrived in France and yesterday applied for asylum there, human rights advocates said.

Maher Ahmad El-Mo’otahssem Bellah El-Gohary, 58, had become the target of Islamic ill will in Egypt after he tried to change the religious affiliation on his national identification card from Muslim to Christian. He and his daughter, 17-year-old Dina Mo’otahssem, arrived in Paris from Syria on March 30 after having fled to Damascus on Feb. 22 in the wake of the revolution in Egypt that deposed then-President Hosni Mubarak.

The Jan. 25-Feb. 11 protests in Egypt also weakened the Ministry of the Interior, an agency that had harassed El-Gohary and prevented him from leaving the country.

El-Gohary had fled to Syria because it was both the fastest and the easiest way to get out of Egypt, but he said he also feared Islamic opposition to converts in Syria and growing political unrest in Damascus.

“When we got to the French embassy in Syria, we were so scared because of what was happening in Syria at the time,” he said.

It took him more than a month to secure a visa to leave Syria. Previously in Egypt, he had been able to leave because he had received a court decision ordering the Ministry of the Interior to allow him to leave the country; taking advantage of the confusion gripping Egyptian government agencies in the wake of the anti-Mubarak protests, he left with his daughter.

Eventually El-Gohary and his daughter hope to gain a visa to the United States and then immigrate.

Despite their newfound safety, El-Gohary and Dina are still shaken by their ordeal. They said they are afraid that a Muslim extremist in France could seek them out and attack them. They also have unresolved medical issues from the physical stress of two years of hiding and from not being able to receive proper medical care during that time.

On Monday (April 18), El-Gohary went to the Embassy of the United States in Paris to apply for U.S. asylum as well. According to a Coptic activist who requested anonymity, the embassy advised El-Gohary that his best option was for his wife, who lives in the United States, to apply for a visa to allow him to enter the country. El-Gohary is also applying for a tourist visa to the United States. Human rights activists have advised El-Gohary to stay in France while he applies for asylum rather than go to the United States on a tourist visa, which may leave him financially exposed and hinder his immigration efforts.

Meantime, El-Gohary’s application for asylum in France qualifies him for an automatic three-month extension on his visa to France, which was set to expire at the end of the month. The extension can be renewed as long as his case is unresolved. It also qualifies him for certain government benefits.

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