Saudi Authorities Release Egyptian Christians

Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Future of Riyadh Jobs Still Uncertain
by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, December 2 (Compass) -- Two Egyptian Coptic Christians jailed by Saudi authorities have been released 17 days after their arrest for establishing an expatriate house church in the capital of Riyadh.

Dr. Sabry Awad Gayed and Eskander Guirguis Eskander, both 38, were informed when they were discharged from prison on November 11 that they were being released “with the approval of their sponsors.”

“This means that the charges are not dropped against them,” Gayed’s wife, Dr. Salwa Khalil, told Compass from Cairo. “The case is not closed yet. So we don’t know what the next step will be.”

Dr. Khalil said she was informed that the two men were released by specific orders of Prince Sultan, Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense in the Saudi kingdom. The prince had been asked in a written complaint to review the file against the two Christians, said to be jailed for no valid reason.

The Saudi Ministry of Interior typically deports expatriate Christians accused of involvement in “illegal” worship activities. But after Gayed was set free, his Saudi employer told him that he was trying to transfer him to one of his other medical clinics in a different area.

According to Gayed’s wife, fanatic Egyptian Muslims had complained against the Coptic Christian pediatrician after he became manager of his Saudi sponsor’s medical clinic in El Bat’ha.

Gayed’s accusers reportedly filed an official complaint against him to the Saudi government’s Committee to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice, declaring that a Christian should not be allowed to manage the clinic and direct its Muslim employees. Under Islamic law, it is illegal for a non-Muslim to hold any position of authority over a Muslim.

“Fanatic Muslims from Egypt are causing problems now for Christians working in Saudi Arabia,” one Arab Christian employed in Riyadh for the past three years told Compass. “Basically, the Saudis are just interested in making money, and they believe Christians are good and trustworthy employees. But some Egyptian extremists complain against us, calling us ‘infidels.’”

Both men were arrested at their homes on October 25, registered at a police station and then jailed. They were accused of “establishing a temple [non-Muslim place of worship].” The two Copts had regularly attended a house church for expatriate Arab Christians meeting privately in Riyadh for several years.

After Prince Sultan reviewed their file, he ordered Gamel and Eskander released on November 4; however, it took a full week for the prince’s release order to be implemented.

According to relatives and friends of the released prisoners, the two Christians were not physically abused and were given “respectful” treatment during their 17 days in custody.

Saudi Arabia strictly forbids Christians and other non-Muslims to meet for public worship. But leading members of the royal family continue to insist that non-Muslims living in the kingdom are free to worship privately within their own homes.