By: Todd Daniels with ICC’s Egypt Representative
3/21/14 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – On February 28, Amira Hafez Wahib and her mother went to the morning prayer service at St. George church in Luxor, Egypt. Amira, age 15, asked her mom if she could go to buy something at a nearby store. Her mom agreed, urging her to hurry back once she was finished. But Amira did not come back. She has not been seen since.
When Amira had not returned after some time, her mother became worried and searched for her around the church and in the nearby streets, Ayman Wahib, Amira’s uncle told International Christian Concern (ICC). But Amira was nowhere to be found.
The next day, Saturday, March 1, Amira’s parents went to the police station and filed a formal complaint with the authorities documenting that Amira had gone missing, Rafla Zekry Rafla, a lawyer handling the case, told ICC.
“We received promises from the police here that they would arrest the accused and return Amira to her family, but there is not any positive step from them till now,” Rafla told ICC. “It has been more than two weeks since the kidnapping of Amira and the police haven’t done anything up till now.”
In Amira’s case, the family believes they know who is responsible for her disappearance. Yasser Mahmoud is a soldier who was stationed in Luxor and at one time was assigned to protect the St. George church.
Amira was working in a Christian store near the church, Ayman told ICC. Yasser had tried to convince Amira that he was in love with her. “Then five months ago this Muslim person entered the shop where Amira works and attempted to take her by force,” Ayman said.
At that time some neighbors were able to prevent the kidnapping. “After this incident her father did not allow her to work in this shop anymore,” Ayman told ICC. The situation seemed to have calmed down until the Friday morning when Amira went missing.
Knowing about the previous attempt the family immediately suspected that it was Yasser who was responsible for Amira’s disappearance. The family was able to track down the place where Yasser lives with his family. Yasser was not there and his family said that they did not know where Yasser was and had not seen him since the time Amira disappeared.
The police were informed of all of this information as well, but have shown no interest in seeing Amira returned home, her family told ICC.
Unfortunately the police cannot help us to release her,” Ayman said. “We are so angry with their weakness and indifference towards the case of Amira,” he continued.
Amira is a part of a bigger story
What makes Amira’s story even more heart-breaking is that her story is one of many stories of Christian girls being kidnapped all throughout Egypt.
On March 9, Azizza, whose name is changed for security, a student in her final year of secondary school was abducted from in front of her school, Mina Milad of the Egyptian Federation of Human Rights told ICC. Her family has taken the case to the police and asked for their help in tracking Azizza down.
Her father, Fadil, whose name is changed for security, returned from working abroad to help in the search for Azizza. On Wednesday, March 12, two masked men on a motorcycle stopped Fadil alongside the road near his house.
“They told me, ‘Don’t look for Azizza, just forget her,’” Fadil told ICC. He said that the two men threatened his life and said that they would abduct his other daughters if he continued the search.
On March 16, Fadil went to the Civil Status Authority to obtain a copy of his daughter’s birth certificate. When the clerk pulled her file they discovered that her name had been changed and her religion had been changed from Christianity to Islam.
The family was shocked, but still was without any new information for how to find where Azizza might be.
The number of these kinds of cases is again on the rise in Egypt. “Due to the absence and weakness of the security in Egypt, the cases of the abduction of Christians have been surging,” Mina Melad told ICC. “I accuse the Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamic groups of abducting the Christian girls in Egypt and forcing them to convert to Islam and marry a Muslim,” he said.
Ebram Louis, founder of the Association for the Victims of Abductions and Enforced Disappearance (AVAED), presented a report documenting 19 cases of Christian girls who have gone missing. These cases were brought before a fact-finding commission responsible for investigating human rights abuses since June 30th, 2013. The office of the prime minister has promised to respond to this report, Louis told ICC.
All throughout Egypt, Christians find themselves in danger. Since the start of 2013, in just the Minya province alone there have been 20 cases of abduction, Ezaat Ibrahim of the Word Center for Human Rights told ICC. “Four of those cases were girls that were taken,” Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim reported to ICC, that on Friday, March 14, Sabah, age 18, was returned to her family. She had been missing since February 20. Her family was contacted by the kidnappers who threatened to kill her if they did not receive a ransom. Ultimately her family paid more than 20,000 Egyptian pounds ($3,000 USD) for her release.
For Sabah and her family they can now start the process of healing from the trauma and abuse of the past few weeks. In far too many cases, these girls go missing and are never heard from again. Left behind are fathers and mothers like Nasser, aching for their daughters, asking for the church to pray for the return of their daughter, and realizing that human leaders seem either unwilling or unable to help.