15 December 2007
Again, cases of missing Coptic girls
(By Nader Shukry - Watani Newspaper)It all began with her father’s generosity. He trusted the man and invited him into his home but never imagined this same guest would go behind his back and seduce his daughter.
Shawqi Hanna Khalil went to the police station at
Obour in Cairo on 6 November to report his 17-year-old daughter Samia missing. He accused Mahmoud Mustafa Hassan, a driver, who he said had kidnapped her and stolen LE5,000 pounds and some jewellery.
Beware of strangers
The village of Shaghab in Esna, north of Luxor, was turned upside down after the disappearance of Samia Shawqi. Khalil’s home village is Shaghab but, a few years ago, he moved with his family to the Cairo suburb of Obour since he found work in a near-by farm. Hassan, who hailed from the same village, would visit him whenever his job as a driver took him to Cairo. Hassan is 32 years old, married with two sons and a third child on the way.
According to Khalil, Hassan began to seduce his daughter with talk of love and passion, finally persuading her to steal her mother’s jewellery and elope with him. On the day that Khalil came home from work and did not find his daughter he waited for hours for her to show up before going to the police. His wife had her own doubts about the matter; she telephoned Hassan, who told her Samia was with him. Khalil and his wife travelled to Esna and wrote to the Luxor branch of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights asking for help, since the Esna police station had refused to register the Khalil’s report.
Samir Ra’fat, a lawyer with the Egyptian Union for Human Rights (EUHR) told Watani that EUHR learnt that Hassan had taken the girl to Al-Azhar so she would convert to Islam, but that Al-Azhar refused because she was under age. On 29 November Hassan returned to Esna and was received by his relatives, who knew of his plan. That night the electricity supply to the entire village was cut off, and some residents believe this was done intentionally to enable Hassan and the girl to enter without being seen. When more than 700 Christians gathered around the police station calling for Samia’s return, Hassan took her to the State Security Investigation (SSI) office in Esna. Lawyers headed straight to the General Prosecutor Office in Esna to report that the girl was under age and it was illegal for her to embrace Islam or marry without her father’s or guardian’s approval. Khalil himself went to the police station to see his daughter after she returned from the SSI, but the police officers refused to let him in until and unless the crowd dispersed. A few hours later the head of the Qena security apparatus and the head of Qena SSI arrived, and the case was transferred to the prosecutor’s office. Investigation took place from midnight to 5 o’clock in the morning of 1 December and, strangely enough, the father was taken into custody while Hassan and the girl were taken to the Obour police station where they claimed that Khalil had accused his daughter of stealing.
A claim was made against the head of Qena Prosecution because of this manipulation of the case, and consequently Khalil was freed. It thus seems insensitive of Esna MP Faisal Abd al-Rahman to express sympathy towards Hassan when he told reporters: “The girl got married and embraced Islam, what does her father want?” He appears to have forgotten that Samia is under age and cannot marry without her father’s approval.
However, the drama seems to have been resolved and EUHR head Naguib Gabraïl says that after 27 days away Samia is now back with her family and is spending some time in a “quiet, spiritual place” to recover from the experience.
Without a trace
While happiness has come to the Khalils, another Coptic family has been left worrying. The Attallahs from Kom Ombo, south of Esna, are grieving following the disappearance of their daughter Mariam Hakim Girgis Attallah. Twenty-year-old Mariam disappeared on 30 November, and nothing is so far known about her whereabouts.
Mariam’s uncle, Salib Adli Girguis, told Watani that his niece was working in a ceramic and tile shop. “On that Friday, we waited until 11pm. When she did not show up we asked all our relatives and friends with whom she could have been staying. We then went to the police centre in Kom Ombo and reported her missing,” Girguis said. The matter was referred to State Security, which did nothing to help.
“We later went to visit the clan of al-Ashraaf [literally ‘the honourables’, since this clan claims its roots go back to the family of the Prophet Mohamed]. These people are very powerful—even the governor and police fear them; they kiss the hand of the clan Elder when they see him.” Girgis said. Ashraaf members have a reputation for being active in the ‘Islamisation’ of young Coptic women and marrying them off to Muslim men.
“We went to meet the Elder of the clan, Mr Idreesi,” Girguis said. “He told us Mariam had gone to Ashraafs in the morning, but did not find him. Mr Idreesi asked us to have a seat, and promised us we could see her. However, until 3:00am of Sunday 2nd December, we never saw her.
The girl’s uncle denied that Mariam had disappeared of her own free will. Mariam’s brother, Fayez Hakim, 43, said Mariam was the youngest of seven children—four boys and three girls—most of whom are married. Hakim told Watani that three years before, Mariam had been engaged to her cousin, but the engagement was broken off after the bride and groom underwent the required pre-marriage medical check-up which revealed that Mariam had a condition that would never allow her to bear children. Everyone—her brother, mother and her Father Confessor—asserted that Mariam had taken the matter stoically and peacefully, and appeared to suffer no psychological disturbance as a consequence.
No matter what the case was, there is no justification for the police to procrastinate in their search for a missing girl. It is an open secret that the police know exactly where missing girls are. In a famous case last year, they managed to produce two young women who had gone missing for a full two years once they had orders from the president to do so. And even though Mariam is of age, this is not enough reason why she should not be found and be allowed to state clearly whether she left home of her own free will.
“All I wish to know is whether she left freely or was abducted,” her father says. “Once she says she wishes to leave, she is perfectly free; I cannot force her to do anything. I only want my fears put at rest.” It is as much as any father could want.
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