Egypt Independent

Christian girl abduction could cause sectarian crisis, says women’s council head

The Salafi Front’s statements about a Christian girl in Matrouh Governorate who allegedly converted to Islam could lead to sectarian strife

, the head of the National Council for Women warned on Thursday.

On 30 September, Sarah Ishaq Abdel Malak, 14, disappeared after leaving her school in Dabaa, a city in Matrouh. Her father filed a report at the Matrouh Public Prosecution to investigate, after which one of her school friends came forward to say a local Muslim man could have been behind Abdel Malak’s disappearance, Egypt Independent reported Thursday.

A Salafi Front leader said Monday that Abdel Malak is not a minor, raising speculation that the group knows of her location. On Wednesday, the front released another statement denying any relationship with the girl or her alleged abductor, saying it is only volunteering to defend Abdel Malak’s right to choose any religion she believes in.

Mervat al-Talawy, the council head, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the council brought the story to the media’s attention after Abdel Malak’s father filed a complaint with the council claiming a young Muslim man — identified by the Association for Victims of Abduction and Forced Disappearance as Mahmoud Abu Zied Abdel Gawwad, 27 — abducted his daughter.

"The girl, who is still a minor, was forced to marry at an early age, in violation of Egyptian law and the international Convention on the Rights of the Child," Talawy said. She added that the girl's young age makes it impossible for her to differentiate between religions, complicating her alleged conversion to Islam.

Talawy said she feared Abdel Malak could become another Kamilia Shehata. In July 2010, Shehata, a Coptic Christian woman from Minya Governorate, disappeared suddenly. Wide scale demonstrations broke out across the country amid rumors that she had converted to Islam but was being detained inside a church. In May 2011, she appeared in a video posted on several Coptic websites denying she had converted to Islam, but had in fact left her house after a conflict with her husband. 

The National Council for Women is a government body responsible for the development of policies for the advancement of Egyptian women, and therefore if we disregard this girl’s case, we will be neglecting our duty, Talawy said.

Talawy insisted that those who violate the law regarding early marriage should be prosecuted.

Talawy said the girl's family is coordinating with the council to pressure the government to return their daughter to their custody. She emphasized that the issue has been brought to the attention of President Mohamed Morsy in a council report.

Hany Helal, secretary general of the Egyptian Coalition for Children’s Rights, denounced the Salafi Front's attack on human rights organizations. He said the front’s statements to the media would lead to sectarian strife.

The girl “is not responsible for her actions” due to her young age, Helal said, accusing the Salafi Front of sexual exploitation for forcing a minor to marry and abducting her from her family.

He called on the Public Prosecution to investigate the claims filed by civil society organizations so that the girl can be returned to her family.

Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm