International Christian Concern is reporting that 2014 has already seen a spike in the number of Christian girls in Egypt being abducted. Sexual harassment, sexual assault, rapes, forced conversions, forced marriages and even being forced into working without pay (slavery) are all major problems.
Just four attorneys said they had over 550 cases over five years of Christian girls applying to have their religious identity restored by the Egyptian government after being kidnapped and forced into converting to Islam. One attorney said he personally knew of at least 1,600 cases of forced conversions.
On February 28, a 15-year old girl named Amira Hafez and her mother went to church in Egypt. Hafez took a quick trip to the store and never returned. When her parents filed the police report, they were fairly certain of who the police should interview: Yasser Mahmoud, an Egyptian soldier stationed nearby that used to protect their church.
The parents said that Mahmoud had walked into the Christian store where Hafez was working and confessed his love to her. Then, five months ago, another Muslim man came to the store and tried to abduct her. She was saved by her neighbors.
Hafez’ parents knew that Mahmoud lived with his parents and visited the home after she disappeared. They said they had not seen him since the time of the incident.
Her parents believe the police are brushing them off. They told International Christian Concern that the “police haven’t done anything up until now.”
In another incident on March 9, a young girl was kidnapped in front of her father by two men on motorcycles. About a week later, the father had her birth certificate reviewed and it showed that her name was changed and she was now registered as a Muslim.
According to the heart-wrenching 2012 study by Christian Solidarity International, the Egyptian authorities often assume that the girls fell in love and/or were trying to escape the strict confines of a Christian family.
Girls that are victims of forced conversions that are lucky enough to escape face additional problems. Firstly, any known conversion from Islam to Christianity (even if one was originally Christianity) makes her an “apostate.” That puts a giant target on her back because sharia’s punishment for apostates is death.
Secondly, the Egyptian government won’t let the girls’ change their registered religion back to Christianity. That makes the healing process extraordinarily more difficult and makes it tougher to assimilate back into the Christian community. It also stops the victim from having privacy. Wherever she goes, she will have to relive her trauma by explaining her story to whoever finds out she is registered as a Muslim.
The study also found lighter forms of persecution increasing, as well. More and more, Christian women were being harassed as they left church. Females wearing necklaces with the cross were cornered and had them ripped off.
As the 2012 study stated, there are two factors behind the abuse of Christian girls in Egypt: Societal misogyny and Islamist indoctrination.
Todd Daniels, Middle East Regional Manager for International Christian Concern, told me that the Egyptian government officially recognizes minors as being those under the age of 18. However, the laws are not usually enforced.
“For those that would embrace an extremist interpretation of Islam, girls are defined as adults once they have reached puberty, allowing for them to be married at much younger ages. These cases are carried out with nearly full impunity, even when there is clear evidence as to the responsible parties,” Daniels said.
The Islamist ideology also explains why women leaving church are being harassed and why cross necklaces are being broken.
The ideology may permit the existence of churches, but Christianity itself is still looked upon with disdain and blasphemous. Mainstream teaching of sharia states that Christians cannot display the cross in an Islamic state. The Muslims that broke the girls’ cross necklaces believed they were acting on Allah’s will.
Reliance of the Traveler, an authoritative book on sharia endorsed by Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, states in section o11.5(6):
“]Non-Muslim subjects] are forbidden to openly display wine or pork, (A: to ring church bells or display crosses,), recite the Torah or Evangel aloud, or make public display of their funerals and feastdays.”
It is no coincidence the increase in attacks on Christians began right after the fall President Mubarak in February 2011 and sharply increased after the Muslim Brotherhood won the Egyptian presidency in June 2012.
“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,” said Mina Melad of the Egyptian Federation of Human Rights.
Part of the reason that this abuse isn’t a major issue is because the U.S. State Department doesn’t want it to be.
The 2012 study was commissioned in reaction to the State Department’s 2010 International Religious Freedom report said that many stories of Muslims forcing Christian women to convert were unverified.
“The State Department’s assertion that cases remain unverified, without providing evidence of an attempt to verify, appeared to be calculated to put a particularly sensitive political issue to rest, without regard for the well-being of the female victims,” the study said.
The Christian women of Egypt deserve our attention, no matter how many Islamists and misogynists it offends.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.