By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
|Sarah Ishaq Abdelmalek|
However, according to a story by Mary Abdelmassih of the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), the case of 14 year old Sarah has become symbolic. AINA said it has brought to a head the issue between Muslim groups, whose members are implicated in the kidnappings, and the Coptic Church and human rights organizations.
AINA said on Sept. 30 2012 ,Sarah Ishaq Abdelmalek was on her way to school with her cousin Miriam, when they stopped at a bookstore. Miriam went ahead of Sarah to school, leaving Sarah behind. Sarah never made it to school and no one has seen her since then.
AINA reported that her father was hesitant at first to contact the authorities for fear of harm to his family and his other children by the Salafi Muslims, who have a large presence and influence in Mersa Matrouh and Alexandria.
AINA said he finally filed a report with the police on Oct. 20 2012, accusing 27-year-old bookstore owner and Salafist Mahmoud Abu Zied Abdel Gawwad, a married man and father of children, of abducting Sarah and marrying her against her will.
"Sarah was smuggled across the borders to Libya with the help of the Interior Ministry," said Ebram Louis, founder of the Coptic non-governmental organization Association of Victims of Abduction and Enforced Disappearance (AVAED), which handles cases of abducted Coptic minors.
AINA reported Louis blamed the interior ministry for all the disappearances of Coptic minors, saying the ministry colludes with the Muslims.
AINA reported that the recently elected Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II said the kidnapping and forced conversion of Sarah is a "disgrace for the whole of Egypt."
During a meeting with a delegation of the Journalists Syndicate Council at Anba Bishoy Monastery in Wadi Natrunon on Nov. 12 2012, he said "Can any family accept the kidnapping of their daughter and her forced conversion?"
AINA said the Pope dismissed the term "emotional ties" for what is happening among young men and girls from different religions, cited as the apparent cause of conversions by the Salafists. In an interview with Al Ahram Daily he said it is "sentimental coercion of girls who have not reached adulthood."
AINA reported the Pope said it is now common among Coptic families not to send their daughters to school because of fear kidnapping and forced conversion.
Anba Pakhomios, the bishop of Mersa Matrouk, said Coptic families are increasingly making their daughters study at home and only go to school for exams.
AINA said the Muslims accused the Coptic Church of causing sedition, because they claim Sarah left home, embraced Islam and married a Muslim of her own free will. They have denied she is a minor.
"When they talk of adulthood, it is not adulthood in the legal sense (18 years old)," said Dr. Naguib Gabriel, head of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organization, "but according to their concept that a girl reaches adulthood when she starts menstruating."
AINA said the Coptic Church and several rights organizations, including the Egyptian National Council for Women, categorically regard Sarah as a minor. They say the law and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), ratified by Egypt, including the Minimum Age Convention, which clearly states anyone under 18 is a minor.
AINA said Dr. Ahmed Rifaat, a law professor at Beni Suef University confirmed that Sarah is a minor legally.As a result she may not have sex or marry until she becomes 18. He said any talk about her marriage or change of her religion is completely illegal. Her marriage is void, and she must get divorced.
AINA said Rev. Bigemi Anba Paula, from the Mersa Matrouh dioceses, where Sarah attended church, responded to the Salafist accusations that the church is meddling.
He said, "If the State did its work, the church would not have been pushed into the problem. We reported the case to the director of security, central security, military security, minister of interior, heads of Bedouin tribes and NGOs."
He added, "We also hand delivered a complaint to President Morsy on October 18 during his visit to Mersa Matrouh. The prosecutor in Alexandria ordered the arrest of the Muslim husband, but no action was taken by the police."
AINA said he accused the authorities of siding with the Salafists, saying "All the time security knew where Sarah was. I wonder whether security are afraid of a confrontation with the Salafists."
AINA said in a statement, Salafist Front made clear that they will not hand over Sarah under any circumstances. They said, "When we take up the issue of the girl Sarah, our response is purely in terms of her human rights."
AINA reported their spokesman, Khaled el Masry, said that once a girl has embraced Islam she has no Christian guardian and can therefore get married without consent.