Pressure to convert ?
Two young Coptic women, Marianne Milad and Theresa Ayad, both aged 23 and in their final year at Fayoum’s Faculty of Medicine, left their homes on the morning of Saturday, 26 February, to go their work at Fayoum public hospital. That evening their families received calls from the police stating that the women had reported their wish to convert to Islam. This stunned their family and friends, as the young women were devout church-goers and Sunday school teachers, from ordinary, middle-class families.
When Marianne’s father was allowed to see her at the police station that evening, he said that she appeared stunned and terrified. The only words she uttered, he said, was that she was doing this to save her brothers. Teresa’s mother says that her daughter only said that she loved her family dearly but could not go home.
As news spread of these events, Coptic protesters began sit-ins in several churches to protest what they claim is the dubious conversion,whether because they are abducted, seduced or threatened, of Coptic women to Islam. The protesters wanted to see the young women and hear them speak for themselves, but the security authorities refused. Calls were made for the return of the girls to their families, denouncing attempts to force them to change religion. Security sources claimed that the two girls converted to Islam voluntarily and that the authorities notified the church in line with the law. The protesters finally agreed to end the sit-ins and allow the Church to verify whether the conversions were voluntary.
The following Monday, however, the women were handed over to their families by the police. A Fayoum priest who attended said that Marianne and Teresa resisted going home.
The Ministry of the Interior later issued a statement which said that the two women went to a hotel in al-Fayoum to stay there until the end of the sessions of religious advice for them, after which it will be decided whether they will declare their Islam or stay Christians. “Serious attempts were made to give religious advice to the two Christian women in coordination with the Christian religious leaderships in al-Fayyoum according to procedures followed in this regard. The attorney general continued the track of these measures and to investigate the implications of their positions by their own will, while the measures to declare their Islam was not completed.” It added that the families of the two young women requested them to continue receiving guidance, which was done in the hotel where they were kept.
There was a consensus in Fayoum that the security authorities had mishandled the situation. Dr Talaat Naoum, deputy to the secretary-general of al-Wafd political party in Fayoum told Watani that such problems acquire the ominous proportions of crises because of the biased stance, in favour of Muslims, of the security authorities. He said that equality in citizenship rights for all Egyptians regardless of their religion should implemented, and called for the formation of a council for citizenship rights. These same demands were reiterated by Ahmed Abdullah, secretary-general of al-Ahrar political party in Fayoum, who said that such problems must be shouldered by the civil society away from the security authorities. He reminded that such a civil body did exist a few years ago under of the name the National Unity Committee, and it did solve problems of religious conversion readily and reliably.
Dr Nabil Alfonse, Fayoumi businessman and member of the local government, bitterly criticised the notable absence of any role for Fayoum’s MPs in this incident. Montasser Thabet, general manager at the culture ministry in Fayoum no doubt spoke for many when he said that he believed that Islamist organisations, in many cases financed by money from outside Egypt , are behind many of the conversions, especially those involving women.
Convert held in mental hospital
In May news broke of an Egyptian convert from Islam to Christianity being held against his will in a Cairo mental hospital, where supervising doctors told him he must stay until he recants his faith and returns to Islam.
Gaser Mohammed Mahmoud, aged 30, was a foundling who was adopted as an infant by a childless Muslim couple. He grew up in the Red Sea port city of Suez . Although he did not know the identity of his birth parents, he was told he had been found abandoned in front of a church in Suez . He finished school and started working, earning good money in an automobile tyre workshop but adoptive father became jealous of his income and had him jailed for a year on accusations of robbery.
After his return from prison, he was so traumatized psychologically that his mother asked some Muslim sheikhs to come and recite the Quran for him. This only made him feel worse until he had a dream of Jesus Christ drawing crosses of light. After this experience he began to read about Jesus and listening to Christian radio programmes As his understanding of the Christian faith grew, Mahmoud began attending a small home fellowship of Christians. At one point, he went to a nearby village and met with a Coptic monk, who advised him to keep quiet about his belief in Christ. Eventually, he informed his mother of his conversion.
Angered, his father notified local Muslim sheikhs, who in turn reportedly threatened to kill him. To prevent this, his mother called local state security police officials, who took him into protective custody on a day-time basis, allowing him to return home at night. But at her husband’s insistence, she finally agreed to commit him on 10 January to the El-Khanka Hospital for Mental and Neurological Health, located on the northern outskirts of Cairo .
During his forced confinement, he was beaten, whipped and given potentially fatal injections by hospital personnel. After a failed escape attempt, he was locked into a solitary room for a month by his nurses, who had learned that he was being institutionalized for apostasy. He was subjected to psychiatric examination and placed in Section Three, a closed ward for mental patients. Although he was allowed visitors initially, the hospital subsequently refused to admit any known Christian acquaintances asking to see him.
He was finally discharged on 9 June, some five months later.
In June the US Coptic Association announced that the Egyptian government had arrested and continued the imprisonment of Engineer Bahaa-Eldin El-Akkhad, a former Islamic preacher from Al Talebiya, Giza , in Upper Egypt . Engineer El-Akkad, 46 years old, married with three children’s, was arrested on April 6, 2005 under Egypt’s Emergency Security Law (Article 98), case # 672 State Security, for endangering national unity by converting to Christianity. Egyptian State Security Prosecutor Tarek Abdel Shakour focused his interrogation of El-Akkad on allegations that he had defamed Islam, and was preaching Christianity to Muslims. After 45 days of incarceration, El-Akkad was transferred to Mazra’at Tora Prison in Cairo where political prisoners are held. Human rights activists have described Tora Prison as the worst prison in Egypt , because of its reputation for torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners.