Christian Girls Targeted by Islamists for Forced Conversions in Egypt

Since Egyptians united earlier this year to oust President Hosni Mubarak from office, the landmark victory has hardly brought peace to the North African country. Clashes between Christians and Muslims are a daily occurrence and young girls are suffering the most as sectarian tension continues to rise.

According to the findings of a recent investigation carried out by “Egypt4Christ”, a group that monitors the abduction of Egyptian minors, young Christian girls in the country are being systematically targeted by Muslim men and being forced through sexual assault or other blackmail to convert to Islam.

Not only are public officials and a law firm implicated in the report, which was reviewed by the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), but a mosque in the capital of Alexandria has been identified as possibly the place where Muslim men are incited to target Christian girls.

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The Egypt4Christ investigation identified “a systematic 'religious call' plan, where young Muslim males... are urged to approach Coptic girls in the 9-15 age group and manipulate them through sexual exploitation and blackmail,” according to AINA.

The group started the probe after a Coptic priest reported that a ten-year-old Christian girl was sexually abused by a 20-year-old college student.

Coptic Christians make up about ten percent the Egyptian population, which is numbered at 80 million.

Reports of Christian girls being harassed are frequent, according to Father Filopateer Gamil of St. Mary's Church in Giza.

He told AINA that girls disappear everyday in his city. “The cases that are brought to public attention are few compared to what the numbers actually are,” he said.

A recent case involves a 14-year-old girl and her 16-year-old cousin, both of who disappeared from their town. Two Muslim brothers in their late twenties were allegedly to blame. According to AINA, the girls were spotted in Cairo wearing burkas and claiming that they had converted to Islam, which is illegal.

Citizens must be at least 18 years of age to legally convert to any religion. Under current Egyptian law, Christians can convert to Islam, but there is no such accommodation for Muslims who may want to convert to Christianity.

Officials did not return the girls to their Coptic families, but instead placed them in a state home while the investigation continues, according to AINA.

The two men accused in their abduction were released.

Christian parents say they find it hard to get any kind of real help from law enforcement or military officials.

Some in Egypt believe this kind of crime, in which Christian girls are targeted and forced to convert to Islam, goes back at least four decades. Coptic Pope Shenouda III warned against this phenomenon in 1976, reports AINA.

The priest noted that there was “a practice to convert Coptic girls to embrace Islam and marry them under terror to Muslim husbands.”

Magdy Khalil, political analyst and researcher in Coptic affairs told AINA that he thinks it is likely that the abduction and forced Islamization of Coptic girls is rooted in an organized crime ring. Khalil believes associations and organizations inside Egypt with domestic and Arab funding are responsible.

Tensions between Christians and Muslims living in Egypt have been extremely volatile since the months-long revolution that overthrew the government.

President Mubarak's ouster has given new life to the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Islamist movements, which has given rise to the increase in sectarian violence, the news agency reports.

In May, a deadly clash broke out in Cairo in which a dozen people were killed and at least 200 injured. The violence came on the heels of a rumor that a Christian convert to Islam was being held captive in a church, according to the Telegraph newspaper.

Coptics say extremists are using the vacuum left by the transition to a new government to pit Muslims against Christians and to destroy churches and homes.

Christians in the country are getting fed up with being persecuted, Emud Gad, head of the international relations unit at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told the Telegraph.

Gad, also a Coptic, says Christians in his country will continue to resist any effort by extremists or other groups to keep them from practicing their faith freely.

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