Egypt: Police Detain Convert Who Wedded Christian

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Woman’s family had tied her to chair and beat her for relationship.

ISTANBUL, November 27 (Compass Direct News) -- Police detained an Egyptian convert to Christianity on her wedding anniversary in Upper Egypt last week, her husband said.

Plainclothes officers arrested Siham Ibrahim Muhammad Hassan al-Sharqawi at 3 p.m. on Thursday (November 22) on the outskirts of Qena, 300 miles south of Cairo, according to an eyewitness. The reason for the arrest was not immediately clear.

The convert had attempted to leave a friend’s apartment building by a backdoor after realizing that plainclothes policemen were standing at the entrance, the source said.

Officers intercepted Al-Sharqawi, 24, on the street and took her to Qena’s security police headquarters, where she was interrogated until yesterday morning. Witnesses said that police treated the woman like a prostitute, calling her a “whore,” and threatening to beat her.

Sources gave conflicting reports about whether State Security Investigation officials used physical violence against Al-Sharqawi or limited themselves to only threats.

Many Egyptian Christian converts from Islam have been tortured at the hands of security police according to a report this month by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. A Christian helping converts in Alexandria told Compass that in December 2006 police applied electrical shocks to his genitals and other sensitive areas of his body for seven hours.

A local source said that Al-Sharqawi was transferred from the station yesterday morning, but her destination remains unknown.

The convert’s husband fears that his wife will be transferred to her native Alexandria or Cairo’s Abbassiya security offices, where her full identity will be discovered. He said that he is not yet certain whether police are aware that she is a convert, because she was carrying neither her Muslim ID nor her forged Christian papers at the time of her arrest.

Al-Sharqawi’s husband and friends remain uncertain of the exact reason for the convert’s arrest. Apart from forgery, Al-Sharqawi may also be held for marrying a Christian man or insulting Islam.

Converts from Islam to Christianity in Egypt are unable to register the change on their national ID cards, which display the holder’s religion.

According to HRW, the Egyptian government at times prosecutes citizens who convert from Islam under Article 98(f) of the Penal Code, which prohibits “contempt of any divinely-revealed religion.”

“Officials have interpreted this article to proscribe conversion from Islam on the grounds that such conversion disparages Islam,” the November 12 report stated.

Tied and Beaten

The fourth of seven children in a conservative Muslim family in Alexandria, Al-Sharqawi began to investigate Christianity while attending a school of tourism in 2000.

There she met her future husband, one of Egypt’s indigenous Coptic Christians who comprise an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the national population. According to a source who spoke to her husband, the two of them began to meet regularly outside of class to talk about issues of faith.

In 2002, Al-Sharqawi’s family discovered she was spending time with a Christian and beat her, repeating the punishment whenever they suspected she had been to see him. Her husband said that an older sister who had attended al-Azhar, Egypt’s top Islamic university, often joined her father in administering the beatings.

“On October 28, 2003 they tied her up to a chair in her dining room and beat her,” her husband said. “Her arm was completely blue.”

The same day, Al-Sharqawi managed to flee her home. She called her parents two weeks later to let them know that she had left of her own free will and would not be returning.

Remaining in hiding with the help of friends, Al-Sharqawi continued meeting with her future husband and other Christians.

On August 26, 2004, Al-Sharqawi was baptized, and three months later, on November 22, she and her Coptic friend from tourism school were married. Due to Islamic law’s ban on Christian men marrying Muslim women, the convert was forced to use a false Christian name to procure a marriage certificate.

The couple continued living in Alexandria, but Al-Sharqawi was forced to stay inside her home for fear that a relative or friend would see her. Hearing that his sister had run away from home, Al-Sharqawi’s older brother returned from Holland, where he had been living, and began working to track his sister.

“She [Al-Sharqawi] couldn’t even buy vegetables or go out on the balcony,” the convert’s husband said. “She was afraid of anyone recognizing her.”

When a work opportunity arose on a cruise ship near Luxor last month, the Christian woman relocated to the southern city to obtain anonymity. Her husband first traveled to Sharm al-Sheikh in search of work and then followed her to Luxor on October 30. He found work in the same area several days later.

While they were away, the couple’s neighbors in Alexandria contacted them to say that unknown men had come knocking at their door several times, once at 2 a.m.

When Al-Sharqawi’s employer laid her off in the middle of the night on November 10, the convert was forced to travel to Qena, where a contact had suggested she could stay with a Christian friend. After staying several days in different homes, the Christian woman was picked up by Egypt’s security police.

Though persecution of converts from Islam makes it impossible to know their exact number in Egypt, HRW has estimated that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Egyptians who have left Islam for another faith.

Copyright © 2007 Compass Direct