07/09/2011, 00.00
EGYPT
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Alleged abductions of young Coptic women fuel Christian-Muslim conflict

Coptic activists say more 150 abductions have taken place since 1993, but cannot provide sufficient evidence to back their claims. Many Christian women escape their homes to get married against their family’s wishes. The editor in chief of ‘Arab-West Report’ blames the problem on hasty interpretations of the facts and the confusion between social issues and religion.
Cairo (AsiaNews) – Sectarian conflict between Egyptian Christians and Muslims is being fuelled by the kidnapping of young Coptic women forced to convert to Islam, with both sides accusing the other. Coptic activists claim that 150 young Christian women and girls have disappeared since 1993, abducted and forced to convert in order to be married. Muslims counter that these women fled their homes because of family problems or to get married despite the parents’ opposition.

The latest case occurred on 12 June in Minya (Upper Egypt), when two girls, Nancy (age 14) and Christine (age 16), were reported missing. Police found them later in Cairo, wearing a niqab but recognisable by the Coptic cross tattooed on their forehead.

Despite their parents’ protestation, the two girls are being held in a Cairo psychiatric hospital and it is unclear whether they escaped or were abducted.

Some analysts point the finger at erroneous and hasty interpretations of events that are dubbed religiously motivated abductions, a definition that fuels tensions between Christians and Muslims.

This attitude favours extremists and unscrupulous criminals let out after the fall of Mubarak’s regime. An example is the outbreak of violence in Imbaba (Cairo) on 8 May. Twelve people died after extremist gangs stirred up Coptic-Muslim animosity over allegations that a woman had been abducted, a claim that later turned out to be false.

Cornelis Hulsman, editor in chief of Arab-West Report, an international news agency, said that in most cases, there is no hard evidence to back allegations. Social problems and religious issues end up being confused.

Often, police neglects to follow up on cases and refuses to release data about the problem.

Coptic families are afraid of retaliation and in most cases do not report their missing relative.

Muslims instead take advantage of family problems to encourage young women to escape and leave their faith.

For Hulsman, it is impossible to separate what is true from what is false. The issue of abductions is used by both sides to promote their own political interests, turning a social problem into a religious conflict. (S.C.)
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