A 16-year-old Coptic Christian girl kidnapped on 28 June to be “converted to Islam, then married off or sold”, was released and returned to her family on 30 September after police found her and arrested her kidnappers in a city just outside Cairo.
Marilyn was recovered from a city named 10th of Ramadan, but she is from a village several hundred kilometres south, in the governorate of Minya.
Her village priest, Father Boutros Khalaf, told World Watch Monitor: “Recently we found out that Marilyn was held in a place in 10th of Ramadan city…. We went to the local police station and they really did their best to reach her and managed to arrest her kidnapper, Taha, and his brother, Gaber, and release Marilyn. She returned back to her family on Saturday, 30 September, after 92 days”.
Fr. Khalaf said she had “not been treated well” by Taha and his friends, but she is just “very happy to be back with her family”.
“We thank God for answering our prayers and the prayers of many other people,” he added. “And we thank all the policemen in the police station that helped us so much in releasing our daughter, Marilyn. We appreciate their great efforts.”
One of many
Her kidnapping was part of a series of disappearances in which Coptic girls were targeted by Islamist networks, who kidnap and force them to convert to Islam and then either marry them off or sell them for large amounts of money, as World Watch Monitor reported last month.
According to ‘G’, a former kidnapper who said he actively targeted Coptic girls before he left Islam, the group he was part of “rented apartments in different areas of Egypt to hide kidnapped Coptic girls. There, they put them under pressure and threaten them to convert to Islam. And once they reach the legal age, a specially arranged Islamic representative comes in to make the conversion official, issue a certificate and accordingly they change their ID”.
‘G’ said one of the strategies they used to gain the girls’ trust was for the kidnapper, a Muslim man, to tell the Christian girl he loved her and wanted to convert to Christianity for her.
“They start a romantic relationship until, one day, they decide to ‘escape’ together,” ‘G’ explained. “What the girls don’t know is that they are actually being kidnapped. Most of the time they will not marry their kidnapper, but someone else.”
Marilyn was kidnapped in this way as well. And although the name of her ‘boyfriend’ at the time was known, a young man named Taha, no arrests were made. Meanwhile, videos of Marilyn, in which she said she had converted to Islam, appeared online. In one, she held a Quran; in the other, veiled, she seemingly repeated what was dictated to her through an earpiece.
Her mother, Hanaa Aziz Shukralla Farag, seeing the video said her daughter was being forced. “She was holding the Quran as if she was holding a medal,” she said. “I see she is under pressure.”
In their desperate attempts to retrieve their daughter, Marilyn’s family wrote letters to the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the interior minister, and many other high-ranking figures, though it is unknown whether these helped to secure her release.
(World Watch Monitor) The images were horrific. Father Samaan Shehata, a 45-year-old Coptic Orthodox priest, lay dead on the ground, stabbed and beaten by a young man wielding a meat cleaver.
Blood dripped down his face into his long, black beard. Dirt discoloured his flowing black robe. His cross pendant rested peacefully on his chest, eerily imitated in the cross-like stabbing etched into his forehead.
Many details remain unknown, but early indications point to extremism. Fr. Shehata was from Beni Suef, visiting a family in Cairo 150 kilometres north in a lower-class, urban suburb of Cairo.
It may well be he was targeted only for the clothes he was wearing – in Egypt, a clear indication of his religious profession.
He was left a public spectacle. So far, no claim of responsibility, no message of intention. There are possible hints circulating of mental instability on the part of the attacker.
Perhaps. Murder is rare in Egypt. Despite the increased terrorism suffered by Copts in recent years, this killing is unusual. There is a chance it was random. But few think so. Coptic social media immediately proclaimed Fr. Shehata a martyr, adding him to the growing scroll.
The image, however, may have lasting effect, reinforcing a decades-old message: the streets are not the place for priests.
Bishop Angaelos of the United Kingdom held the requisite forgiveness to the end of his statement, pouring out instead his frustration and anger.
“Why should a priest not be able to walk safely down a street?” he demanded. “Coptic Christians who have endured injustice, persecution, and loss of life for centuries without retaliation, repeatedly forgiving unconditionally, deserve to live with respect and dignity in their indigenous homeland.”
Samuel Tadros, a Coptic-American analyst, took to Twitter to highlight the social reality.
“This may be a horrific crime but it does not happen in a vacuum,” he wrote. “Coptic priests are insulted and harassed daily as they walk in Egy[ptian] streets.”
Respect. Dignity. Insult. Harassment. What is the way forward? The answer may lie partially in the clothes that sparked the assault.
Better law enforcement is necessary. Education must be reformed. These are the standard answers offered, and there is logic to them. But if they are not going to change anytime soon, what are Copts to do in the meantime?
Years ago I met my first Coptic priest in America, and I asked him about his beard and robe. They are tradition, he explained, but they are so much more.
To a degree, they are public spectacle.
Protestant pastors often blend into society. Catholic priests sometimes take off their vestments. But the Coptic Orthodox clergyman must look distinctive at all times. He is a sign of the church, a message to the people that God’s kingdom is near.
But in recent decades in Egypt, that kingdom has become less and less visible.
Let no one think that the nation is aflame. Muslims and Christians are neighbours and friends. Sectarianism is an ever-latent virus poisoning many, but for the most part life goes on amid patterns of discrimination and identity groupings.
But facing a growing Muslim – often Islamist – domination of the public square, especially before the revolution, Copts have increasingly withdrawn into their churches.
Who can blame them? Spitting is real. Priests travel for visitation in cars with tinted windows. Why not, if the money is there? Egypt drives everywhere these days, just look at the traffic.
But money is also a demarcating line. A priest can shop comfortably in the hypermarkets of upper-class Cairo. Will he buy vegetables off a donkey cart in poor Upper Egypt?
Perhaps this murder is a reminder that he must. Otherwise he cedes the public square completely.
“Why should a priest not be able to walk safely down a street? Coptic Christians who have endured injustice, persecution, and loss of life for centuries without retaliation, repeatedly forgiving unconditionally, deserve to live with respect and dignity in their indigenous homeland.”
Courage is necessary. Conviction. A certainty his service is not only for Christians, but ‘salt and light’ in the stability of his nation. Kingdom of God or not, Egypt, as every society, is only as strong as its minority members.
So let Coptic priests go and find friends. Invite the local imam for a stroll. Have a tea in the corner coffee shop. Circulate together. Purposefully.
Much in Egypt is centralised, and institutions can be nervous. But who can oppose it? National unity is state discourse. The Azhar would esteem. But why wait for official endorsement? Just go and ask the imam already visited on holidays. Can he refuse?
Let this not be naïve. National unity is often perceived as a grudging obligation for public perception. Many hearts – on both sides – are not pure.
And there is another risk. This must not be about ‘protection’. An interpretation of Islam holds that Muslims must guard over the Christians in their society. It can be a noble intention; it can also be at odds with citizenship. The priest must seek no favours, only partnership in society.
But let them be a public spectacle. This is your neighbourhood. Your country. Your fellow Egyptian. Your friend. Teach together.
It is also your gospel. Christians believe Jesus disarmed the evil spiritual powers of sin and disunity, making a public spectacle of them on the cross.
To preach this message, St. Paul and the apostles became public spectacles on display, as ‘fools’ for Christ condemned to die.
Much like Fr. Shehata.
But this is not a fool’s errand. There is even an institution dedicated to the effort. The Egyptian Family House has walked priests and imams in the streets before. Children crowded around and celebrated. Adults took selfies.
Let the cynicism come; all too often it is justified. But let the heart be pure and fight through it with love and solidarity. And courage. Let no-one pretend there will not be another extremist.
Fr. Shehata died dishonourably in one of the most populated areas of Cairo. Soon his idealised image will circulate with the crown of martyrdom. But which picture will hold in the mind of Copts?
The cross on his chest, or the cross on his forehead?
A priest belongs on the streets, like any Egyptian. May he choose wisely.
(World Watch Monitor) Egyptian police have charged a Coptic mother with the murder of her newborn baby, though she says her baby was killed by intruders who entered her home and took her baby from her arms.
Azza Gamal, 27, was home alone with her two-year-old twin girls Mariam and Martha, and baby daughter Mohrael, on the evening of 7 September. Her husband, Nour Bakhit Khalil, 30, had gone to visit his sister, who lives nearby, when he heard his wife scream.
The Khalil family live in a house on the outskirts of the village of Barba in Egypt’s Asyut governorate. They live in the western part of the village, bordering a cemetery and are surrounded plants. The house is small, with an unfinished upper floor, and a ground floor that contains a hall, kitchen, toilet and two rooms.
Speaking to World Watch Monitor, Azza explained that when her husband left to visit his sister, Azza locked the door. She only opened it again when she heard what she assumed to be her husband knocking on the door. In front of her, however, stood three masked men wearing galabiyas (full-length gowns) and a woman in a black abya (a robe-like dress) and niqab (a face-veil covering all but the eyes) who pushed her inside, grabbing the baby from her arms. They then beat her, shouting “kafirs” (“infidels”) and fled, taking the baby with them.
Upon hearing his wife screaming, Nour ran home to see what had happened and was told that his daughter, Mohrael, had been kidnapped.
“I immediately went to the police station to report the kidnapping of my daughter,” he told World Watch Monitor. “They asked me to fetch my wife and our ID cards and then to come back to file a report. None of them went back with me to investigate the matter or search for my daughter.”
When Nour arrived back at his house, he received the news that his daughter had been found, with her throat slit and her body dumped among the plants just 10 meters from their home. He returned to the police station, this time with his wife, to report on what he had seen. The police started an investigation and promised they would do their best to find and arrest the perpetrators.
However, four days later, on 11 September, the police came back and raided their home.
“The officers slapped my wife in the kitchen and said that she had killed her daughter and arrested her,” Nour explained. “They alleged that my wife suffers from psychological problems because of her desire to have a male rather than a female child, as she [already] has two girls. Allegedly she [also] killed Mohrael because I dislike having girls and wanted a boy instead of this girl.”
“We are simple people, we had no enemies, and there isn’t any trouble between us and anyone in the village,” Nour said.
As for his wife of three years being charged with the murder of his daughter, Nour called that “false, irrational and unreasonable”.
“My wife is a very good woman. She is a religious person who has a strong relationship with God and could not do something like killing her daughter,” he said. “She and I were very happy when God blessed us with this little girl. Mohrael was very beautiful and cute and a great gift from God to us and we loved her so much. Azza stayed up every night to take care of her, playing with and nursing her. How then could she kill her? I also haven’t seen any bad behaviour from [my wife’s] side since we got married. She treats me well, is very humble and loves me and our daughters so much, especially the new baby. As for me, I wasn’t angry because my wife had a girl. On the contrary I love the girls and I was very happy when my wife gave birth to Mohrael. Saint Mary was a girl. Boys and girls are gifts from God and none can object this gift.”
Meanwhile, Nour and Azza’s church has hired a lawyer on their behalf. Since the couple don’t have money to cover the legal fees, the church released a statement asking if “the people of our village will contribute even a small part to pay for these costs”.
Rev. Salib said it is obvious the attackers were familiar with this part of the village, where most of the residents are Christians, living on the outskirts, close to where the vegetation becomes thicker. “They knew what they were doing [and] planned for everything accurately as they chose the suitable time to break into the home,” he said. “It was about 9.30pm, [a time when] most of the villagers in Upper Egypt are asleep.”
It remains unclear who was behind the attack on the Khalil family, but this year Egypt’s Copts have frequently been targeted by Islamic extremists with links to the Islamic State group, which vowed to “wipe them out”. As World Watch Monitor has reported, IS has recently shifted its focus from the Sinai Peninsula towards establishing a foothold in Upper Egypt, an area said to be “marginalised” by politicians, lacking in security and in which many people are poor and uneducated.
Following the attacks on churches and the massacres of Christians that have bloodied Egypt in recent months, “the Coptic Church has prayed for all”, even for “the evil people” who have attacked churches and Christians . With these words, the Coptic Patriarch has again given witness of the transparent faith with which many Coptic Christians have experienced the many experiences of martyrdom that have marked the recent journey of their Church. He did this during an interview with the Japanese television network Asahi, reiterating his confidence in the power of prayer, “which can change hearts”.
The interview was released by Patriarch Tawadros during the Japanese visit that the Coptic Primate of the Coptic Church is carrying out in several communities of the Coptic diaspora and starting from August 30, will continue in Australia. During his stay in Japan, Tawadros also inaugurated the Cathedral of Our Lady of St. Mark in Kyoto, the first Japanese Coptic church.
In the interview with Asahi TV, the Coptic Patriarch also stated that (more…)
(Morning Star News) – Egyptian military officers beat a new soldier to death on July 19 upon learning that he was a Christian, relatives said.
Joseph Reda Helmy of Kafr Darwish village, Beni Suef Governorate, had just completed training at Mobarak military training center and was transferred to Al-Salaam special forces police unit, where three officers killed him, relatives told Middle Eastern media. The Egyptian army told relatives Helmy died of an epileptic seizure.
His father, Reda Helmy, told Al Karma TV by phone that his large, strong son had arrived at the camp at 2 p.m. and was dead by 8 p.m. In the same program, the deceased’s cousin, Youssef Zarif, said he received a message at 2 a.m. on July 20 from the Ministry of Interior to come and retrieve Helmy’s body.
When Zarif arrived, he asked to meet an officer and was initially rebuffed. Eventually he met with an officer who told him that Helmy had died of an epileptic seizure. Zarif refused to believe the army explanation, saying Helmy was a healthy, quiet person loved by all in his village of Christians and Muslims. The heavily Muslim country has population that is about 10 percent Christian.
He told Al Karma that the extensive bruising he found on the body did not look like those of an epileptic episode. He said Helmy had bruises on his head, shoulders, neck, back and genitalia, with the worst injuries occurring on his back.
The doctor who examined the body refused to bow to pressure from those who brought it and reported that the cause of death was not natural, Zarif said. A prosecutor accompanying the family firmly concurred and demanded an investigation, he said.
Zarif said he thanked the doctor and prosecutor for not trying to cover up the truth.
The three officers who attacked his cousin are in custody and under investigation, he said.
Zarif said he learned from police and other soldiers that the three officers began to harass Helmy because of his Christian faith, and that the marks on his body indicate they kicked him with their boots and hit him with heavy instruments.
Another cousin, Malak Youakim, confirmed the killing to Alhorreya.TV. Youakim also said Helmy was attacked for his Christian faith.
A Christian leader in Helmy’s home village said many there are in mourning.
“Many women are wearing black, a sign of mourning for the death of one of their Coptic youth,” he told Morning Star News. “Many are sharing the graphic pictures of the bruised body of Joseph Reda Helmy, a new draftee doing his military service.”
He said Helmy had been in the army for only month when he died on July 19.
Several other Coptic Christians have died for their faith while serving in the Egyptian military. On Feb. 17, 2016, the Egyptian military informed the family of Michael Gamel Mansour that the 22-year-old conscript from Assuit had committed suicide. Authorities claimed Mansour, who was assigned to a unit that guards El Gomhoreya Stadium in Cairo, shot himself with a rifle. They asserted that moments before his suicide, Mansour became despondent after a telephone conversation with members of his family.
Sources said they do not believe that Mansour killed himself. Family members have said the phone conversation the military cited was about innocuous issues. Mansour was not dealing with any major problems and gave no signs that he was having any sort of psychological episode, they said, and no suicide letter has been found.
Mansour had been scheduled to be discharged from army service on July 1, 2016, according to family members. His case marked the third time in nine months that the government reported a Coptic Christian soldier committing suicide. A fourth Christian was killed in August 2016, according to the government, in a shooting incident in which no one has been criminally charged.
On Nov. 20, 2015, the military informed Nataay Boushra that his son, Private First Class Bishoy Nataay Boushra, a second-year conscript soldier in the Egyptian army, was dead, also a victim of suicide. Boushra, 21, served in the Central Security Forces (CSF), a ubiquitous, 450,000-man unit under the command of the Ministry of Interior used to augment the Egyptian National Police. Boushra was posted to the outskirts of Cairo, guarding the CSF barracks used by his duty section.
According to the military, Boushra was found dead the morning of Nov. 20, 2015 in the bathroom of a military jail cell with a sheet wrapped around his neck. Officials told Nataay Boushra that his son hung himself from a windowsill.
Nataay Boushra rejects the government’s claim of suicide. His son was deeply spiritual and considered suicide to be a grave sin. During his army service, he was in regular contact with his family and gave no indication of any depression before his death. He was just three months away from being discharged from the army and pursuing his lifelong dream of becoming a monk.
As with the case of Mansour, the military made its ruling that the cause of Boushra’s death was a suicide before an autopsy was performed. At the morgue, the family refused to take the remains until officials conducted an autopsy, but while waiting, Nataay Boushra and his brother were able to examine the body. In addition to the ligature marks expected from a hanging or strangling death, Boushra’s torso was covered with bruises and huge welts from what appeared to be sustained, brutal beatings.
For months before his death, according to his father, Boushra endured threats, violence, intense verbal abuse and public humiliation from a fellow draftee, a Muslim known to the public only as “Mustafa.” Boushra took the abuse in stride until Nov. 4, when the Muslim soldier launched into yet another tirade against Christianity. Boushra picked up a stick the size of an ax handle and hit the other soldier in the head, knocking him to the ground, according to military court testimony.
The soldier was taken to a hospital for examination and then released. Both men were arrested and placed together in a jail cell awaiting a hearing in a military court.
For reasons still unknown, another soldier who was a friend of Mustafa was later locked in the military prison cell with Boushra and Mustafa, the same cell in which he was later found dead, according to the military.
This is the story of Amani Mustafa, a Egyptian women who left her country and moved to the US. In this video she explains the danger and abuse she was faced with in Egypt and about her conversion to Christianity.
The AP reports the Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for an attack on a check point near the historic Orthodox Christian St. Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt, killing one police officer and wounding four. ISIS has vowed more attacks against Egyptian Christians, who make up 10 percent of the country’s population.
One of the world’s oldest ‘working’ Christian monasteries, St. Catherine’s, officially “Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai”, was built between 548 and 565 in a remote desert area at the foot of Mount Sinai. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and a popular tourists destination. The site contains the world’s oldest continually operating library, possessing many unique books including the Syriac Sinaiticus and, until 1859, the Codex Sinaiticus.
Militants ascended onto an elevated hilltop overlooking the police checkpoint several hundred meters outside the monastery. Then they opened fire. Some of the gunmen were wounded when police returned fire, Egypt’s Interior Ministry said.
Please pray for our Christian family in Egypt.
Photo By Berthold Werner via Wikimedia Commons