Human rights group
disputes U.S. First Lady's view of Egypt
Egyptian Repression
Said to Be Escalating
 22 March 1999--Egypt's repression of women and Christians 
continues to escalate despite the picture the government painted 
for the recent visit of First Lady Hillary Clinton, according to the 
human rights group International Christian Concern (ICC). 
Members of the Washington, D.C.-based group returned from a 
fact-finding trip to Egypt last week.

Reliable reports claim that one out of every three Egyptian women 
have reported having been beaten by their husbands, ICC says. 
Children are equally likely to be abused. ICC discovered that an 
increasing number of young Christian women are prone to being 
abducted by Muslim men, raped and forced to convert to Islam. In 
such cases, Christian women have no legal recourse and fear for 
their own welfare should they protest.

Women and men alike commonly lose custody of their children to 
their Muslim spouse after changing their religion from Muslim to 
Christian, ICC says. Nevertheless, the reverse rarely, if ever, has 
ever applied to a Christian who becomes a Muslim. Mr. Basam 
William Alaim was influenced to convert to Islam while 
undergoing therapy in a Muslim mental hospital known as Azhan, 
which is known for its effort throughout the Arab world to spread 
Islam. Despite the fact that he had a history of mental problems, 
once he converted to Islam he divorced his Christian wife and was 
successful in gaining custody of their two young children. Their 
eight-year-old boy Peter is now Mohammed.

In another case, one Christian father has been unsuccessful in his 
attempt to appeal a court decision of January 1, 1998 that gave 
custody of his three children to his Muslim wife. The basis in all 
cases of child custody when one parent changes their religious 
faith can be summarized by the statement of the judge in this last 
case: "Islam is the greater and higher religion than any other," 
therefore the children should be raised as Muslims by a Muslim 
parent, irrespective of who is better qualified to meet the needs of 
the child.

In another case, Amad, the Christian father of two young girls, 
died of natural causes. An Islamic group claimed that that Amad 
had converted to Islam before he died and that his children should 
be raised as Muslims. Based on the testimony of the Islamic group, 
the children were torn from their mother and given to a stranger to 
be raised as Muslims. According to Egyptian law, children of a 
Christian male who converts to Islam--whether the father dies or 
not--must be raised as Muslims. This does not apply to one who 
converts to Christianity.

Under Egyptian law, it is illegal to make any repair, no matter how 
minor, to a church building without permission from the regional 
governor. ICC learned of three incidents in Upper Egypt that 
occurred since October that involved a total of seven Christians 
who were detained and tortured for having made repairs to a 
church building. In each of the three cases, those responsible for 
their detainment and torture were officers of a division within the 
Egyptian security force that deals exclusively with religious 
matters. The Egyptian government has denied that any such 
division exists. However, every Christian with whom the ICC team 
met claims that indeed such a "secret police" division does exist. 
ICC also learned that these secret police in particular are watchful 
for Muslim converts to Christianity and, when discovered, make 
life extremely miserable for them.

In each of the three cases involving repairs to churches, the 
Christians expressed their desire to remain anonymous for fear of 
police reprisal. One young man told ICC how he had been caught 
making minor repairs to a church and then taken to three different 
police stations over six days where he was told: "You are a 
criminal for having worked on a church building and therefore 
must be punished." Over a three day period he suffered beatings 
and was told that if he didn't accept the beatings he would be 
electrocuted. Today, he suffers a loss of hearing in one ear as a 
result of repeated slaps to the side of his head. He said that three 
guards took turns in three shifts to insult him and beat him. The 
young man says he was placed against a wall and told to raise his 
hands in the air for hours on end. His captors punched him and 
beat his legs with a rod. When he could no longer stand, they 
jumped on him with all their weight.

In the other two incidents, it was reported that the victims were 
blindfolded and beaten with sticks, repeatedly punched in the 
stomach, and the hair from their chest and head was pulled. They 
were then forced to lie on the floor as the officers walked on them 
with their boots. If one of them said anything, they were again 
beaten. They were all told, "If you speak of this to anyone, we will 
find you and electrocute you." One of the victims was detained six 
times for as long as seven days. He is now unable to walk due to 
the repeated beatings to his legs. In each of the three cases, no 
charges were brought against the Christians, neither were they 
allowed access to family members or legal counsel. When asked if 
they would consider taking legal action against the officers, the 
Christians replied, "It would do no good; as it has happened to 
others, we would simply disappear."

In meetings with Muslim converts to Christianity, ICC was 
informed that they are forced to live in secrecy. Once discovered 
by the security police, they are taken into police custody. Some 
reported having been tortured. One young convert reported having 
been cut and poisoned and later had to be smuggled from the 
village. Another convert was brutally beaten by her family to the 
point that she feared for her life. She managed to flee.

More recently, however, the torture of converts has decreased and 
instead the method of harassment is constant intimidation of 
family members and denial of employment and education. 
Converts are subjected to mental torture by repeatedly being 
interrogated and insulted. In nearly every case, converts are forced 
to leave their towns and relocate to someplace where they are not 
known. Eventually, however, the security police find a way to 
locate them and once they do, they convince the owners of the 
house that they are living in to evict them or otherwise face actions 
against them. One convert reported having received threats from 
the security police after it was known that he was responsible for 
the conversion of several other Muslims. The security police will 
frequently use informants in the churches and in places of 
employment to try and learn more about the activities of the 
converts. Converts are also subjected to ongoing interrogations and 
threats in an attempt to persuade them to divulge information 
about other converts that might enable the authorities to make a 
case against them.

As Mrs. Clinton met with leaders of the Egyptian government and 
even church leaders obliged to speak favorably of the government, 
she did not likely have the opportunity to learn the truth. She did 
not hear from the people themselves who are quite familiar with 
the fact that there is no justice for them--that there is no one inside 
the country left who can freely speak out against injustice without 
they themselves being subjected to the heavy hand of the 

ICC was told by one Egyptian human rights advocate, who wishes 
to remain anonymous, that one of the few who had spoken out 
against the repression of human rights of Christians will no longer 
do so. In December 1998, human rights advocate Hafez Abu Si'ada 
was arrested after publishing an article that was critical about the 
government's handling of the El-Kosheh incident, where reportedly 
several hundred Christians, including women and children, were 
rounded up and tortured in an attempt to extract information about 
the slaying of two Christian men. Hafez was arrested and detained 
in a tiny, unventilated cell for two days. His hair was shaved, he 
was denied food and water, and was subjected to threats and 
humiliation. He was charged with "accepting funds from abroad 
and disseminating false information abroad," but has since been 
released. While the charges against him have yet to be carried out, 
ICC was told that Hafez has said that he will no longer represent 
the Christians in connection with human rights abuses."

International Christian Concern is urging the public to lodge a 
protest with their elected officials in Washington and the White 
House. Egypt must be persuaded to allow an independent, 
Christian human rights organization the right to established an 
office in Egypt to investigate and defend the rights of women and 
Christians, ICC says.

Return to Project Open Book