Over 500 Christian girls have been abducted in Egypt since the revolution of January 2011; they are taken by Salafists who forcibly convert them to Islam and marry them to Muslim men against their will.
The number of cases has been documented by the non-governmental Christian organisation Association of Victims of Abduction and Enforced Disappearance (AVAED), which says that Salafist sheiks are behind nearly all of the abductions and the interior ministry colludes with them.
Founder Ebram Louis said:
In every Egyptian province there is a Salafist association which handles the kidnapping of Christian girls. They have homes everywhere where they keep them. If we inform the police where the kidnapped girl is being kept, they inform the Salafists, who then move her away to another home and then we lose all trace of her.
AVAED lawyer Said Fayez said that the age of the abducted girls is becoming younger at typically 13-14 years old.
One case involves 14-year-old Sarah Ishaq Abdelmalek from el-Dabaa. She disappeared on her way to school on 30 September 2012, having stopped at a bookshop; Sarah’s father subsequently accused the Salafist bookshop keeper of abducting his daughter and marrying her against her will.
Mr Louis said that Sarah was smuggled across the border to Libya with the help of the interior ministry.
The kidnappers claim that the teenager left home, embraced Islam and married a Muslim man of her own free will. A spokesman for the Salafist Front said that they would not hand over Sarah under any circumstances, claiming that they were acting in the interests of her human rights.
Under Egyptian law, a person may not marry or change their religion until the age of 18.
The prosecutor in Alexandria has ordered the arrest of Sarah’s kidnapper, but the police have failed to take any action.
Another recent case has had a happier ending. Agape Essam Girgis (13) from el-Ameriya, near Alexandria, went missing on 23 December 2012; she had gone in a taxi with her school’s Muslim social worker and two male teachers.
Agape was drugged and woke up in a secluded place with an elderly woman and two sheikhs, who tried to convert her to Islam. The schoolgirl was forced to wear full Islamic dress and was beaten two or three times when she refused to say the Islamic confessions of faith.
Following demonstrations by Agape’s family and their supporters, she was returned on 31 December.
Her family has decided that she will not return to school. Many Christian parents are no longer sending their daughters to school, fearing that they may be kidnapped.