12/21/2004, 00.00
EGYPT – ISLAM

Coptic Patriarch in retreat to protest anti-Christian discrimination

Cairo (AsiaNews) – Coptic Patriarch Shenouda III went into retreat to protest Muslim discrimination against Egyptian Christians. "The Patriarch will remain in retreat," his secretary said, "till the time the government has found a solution his conscience can accept".

Egyptian authorities today released 13 of the 34 detainees, but the other 21 will remain in prison for another two weeks.

Speaking off the record, Coptic sources said that Shenouda will leave his voluntary retreat at Anba Bishoy monastery (north-east of Cairo) only when the 34 Copts detained after clashes with police on December 8 are released.

Three thousand Christians had gathered outside Cairo's St Mark's cathedral to protest after the wife of a Coptic priest had disappeared—abducted to be forcibly converted to Islam according to Copts.

Clashes between demonstrators and the police had left some people injured and 34 arrested. It is for them that Patriarch Shenouda went into voluntary seclusion.

Wafaa Constantine Messiha, 47, is married to Father Joseph, Coptic Orthodox priest at the Abul-Matamir parish church in Beheira (north of Cairo), a diabetic who risks the amputation of both of his legs.

Ms Constantine Messiha, a trained-agronomist working for a local company, was allegedly abducted to be converted to Islam. She was found in the nearby home of a Muslim family.

Local Christians claim that her employer kidnapped and seduce her and then tried to blackmail into becoming Muslim.

Local Muslims denied she was abducted. But upon her return home a few days after her disappearance, the physically- and emotionally-strained Constantine—it took her two days before she could speak—said she "was born a Christian and intends to die one" as Maher Abdel Wahed, the local public prosecutor, attested.

This is not an isolated case. According to Emil Zaki, vice president of the US Copt Association, "the situation for Christians in Egypt is getting worse by the minute. Muslims are regularly attacking Copts. Mubarak's regime has not only ignored, but in many cases contributed to the alarming increase in anti-Coptic violence."

In recent months, Patriarch Shenouda III had said that he had received "numerous complaints about young Christian women being kidnapped", most likely to be forcibly converted to Islam.

The prelate has called on the police to take "serious steps" against the violence. "We do want these tragic events to happen again'" he said. "We have had enough!" (LF)

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