When An ID Card Is a Life Sentence by Sara Ghorab

 The Specter of Christianity 

If you live in the States or the West, you may not understand why
Egypt’s Copts sometimes hide their wrists in the company of Muslims.

Why the ones named “Mina” or “Bishoy” are sometimes less than forthcoming in offering their name to a new friend named “Khadija” or “Ahmed.”


Why many of them feel so passionately about having their religion so boldly printed on their National ID Cards 


See, a tattoo of a cross on an Egyptian’s wrist can mean he won’t get a desirable job, if any. And certain names—blatantly Christian ones—sometimes make Copts the targets of violence, persecution, or even “garden-variety discrimination.”


But tattoos can be hidden, and nicknames given to draw less attention to an Egyptian’s Christianity. Unfortunately, there is no easy cure for having the word “Christian” boldly printed on a person’s ID. That doesn’t mean that people can, should, or do avoid getting this document that makes them a target.


For example, it wasn’t too long ago that three cousins from Abo Kerkas—Jehan Waneess Klada, Amani Maher Klada, and Theresa Edward Kamal—were on a mission to get IDs, despite the fact that they were 14 and 15 years old. 

 Hassan, an employee of the Social Security office (“Segel el Madany”) promised the girls fake IDs. He came through for the young ladies, but the cards erroneously said “Muslim.” 

When the local clergyman saw the false religious affiliation on the IDs, he understood the ramifications of the “mistake,” and hid the girls in a convent for several days, in order to protect them.


They were then released into the custody of their relatives, who soon found themselves confronted by a taxi and several armed men, including two called “Sheikh Ahmed” and “Sheikh Ali,” one of whom cussed them out, saying “Ya welad el kalb, azebtoony wi dawakhtoony osboa alekom.” (You sons of the dog, you made me dizzy for a week, looking for you!) 


The men took the three girls to a store selling Islamic dress, and clothed the girls in the neqab, or the veil that covers the face. After this branding of a sort, the girls were divested of the crosses tattooed on their wrists, via acid. 


The kidnappers took the girls to the village of  Kodeska, and installed them in a house for several days. While the denizens of the house were preparing for a round of prayers, the girls were left alone, and Theresa went wandering, in search of a bathroom. She instead came across a door leading to the street, and fled the house.  She was able to take a taxi and eventually arrived to her uncle’s house in Shobra (Cairo). She went online to tell of her ordeal, and then went to the police and reported it to them.  


A police officer took her back to the village, so that Theresa could identify the house, but alas, what was meant as an informative trip was made at midnight, confusing the girl. The police officer swore at her and slapped her around a bit, and decried her a liar. But at least she was free. 


Several days later—yesterday, in fact— the other girls were released, but only on the condition that Theresa would retract her statements and “confess” to not having been kidnapped. 

 Streamlined operation  While he didn’t work his magic this time around (as far as I know), attorney Saad el Adi and others have a whole operation ready to go, a streamlined operation, if you will. 

Such “involved citizens” have a whole network of evildoers who each take part in an increasingly McDonald’s-like assembly-line of skullduggerous deeds. 


It all starts with the shill.   For those of you unfamiliar with those old-time carnivals with “the shell game” and other games of “chance,” may I tell you that a “shill” is the person who goes and plays a round or two, then “wins,” thereby making the audience think the game is either fair or simple to win.


What the audience doesn’t know, however, is that this person is in cahoots with the person behind the counter, and his “wins” are orchestrated.   So in this case, the “shill” is either a seemingly innocuous Muslim girl who befriends “the target,” or a Muslim guy who sets about to make the target fall in love with him. The shill will then gain the trust of the target, with the express purpose of getting them alone, whether in their own town or on a trip. 

 Then there’s the Pick-Up Artist, whose specialty is picking up the target from wherever the Shill has left them, and taking them to the place where the trouble really starts.  

Middle-aged women are often employed in this manner, since they’re often matronly and soft, or smartly-dressed and somewhat iconic to a young peasant girl. 


Finally, come the Tormenters, who may be the ones to drag a kicking and screaming young girl to her temporary prison, or the ones to bonk her over the head and drug her up so that she doesn’t know what’s going on.  


There are various and sundry other people involved in these operations, either by design, like, “Ok, you show up here and do this,” or by default, as in “What? You did what? Oh.. well, I didn’t see anything, anyway.”

 This category may also include officials or State Security people who may “turn a blind eye” to the atrocities that go on in front of them.   Getting to smack the random girl who’s just appeared in front of him is merely a bonus to these charming fellows.   


Why the Saiid?  It must be said that this kidnapping operation does more frequently occur in Upper Egypt and/or “the smaller villages,” rather than the more cosmopolitan cities of Cairo, Alexandria, or Port Saiid. This could be for several reasons, including: 

The rather anti-Copt atmosphere, which may lead to more instances of wanting to “get” Copts.


The fact that Saiidi girls are said to be among the prettiest inEgypt. 


The fact that Saiidi families are said to be—and empirically are—the strictest in
Egypt, perhaps causing the daughters to rebel, or to want to rebel. 


The fact that Saiidi girls, by virtue of their being so sheltered, may also be more innocent (and trusting) than the average Egyptian girl, thus opening them up to more schemes, scams, and all manner of plans.

 Why It Works 

Very simply put, this ridiculous game has a remarkably high success rate because the Muslims involved are clever enough to see what it is that their target is lacking; for example, a sheltered girl with a tortured or romantic soul may be seeking understanding, a few nice words or some physical affection. 

 The poor student at the top of his class (and yes, there are guys who get swindled into converting) may be in dire need of money, which the generous Muslims provide.

And a teen who feels unreal—or who feels he’s “been there, done that”—may embrace the opportunity to try some white powder or a special cigarette that will make him forget, or heighten his senses. 

 That’s not to say that these quasi-conversions don’t sometimes happen for a noble cause, like being able to pay the bills, or being able to obtain a medicine for one’s ill child; in any case, though, I would consider these conversions either false, coerced, or forced. 

But the kidnapping or seduction of these sometimes-half-willing parties isn’t the end of the matter, and life may get even more difficult after the part that one might consider “the worst part” is over. 


Assuming that a girl didn’t willfully run away in the name of “true love,” or tyrannical parents, there is something that eclipses the horror of being held down by the shoulders, bruised in unimaginable and heretofore-unthought-of places, and savagely invaded in a searing and bloody mockery of what should be a joyful and sacred initiation into womanhood; the horror of being a non-virgin in a region of the world that measures family honor by a little piece of skin that may be situated within a girl, but which apparently belongs to everyone sharing her last name. 


But some girls did actually choose to run away, believing that they and their beloved would live out their days together, happy and unfettered… despite their true love’s status of “Muslim.” 


For many of these girls, the worst thing imaginable has nothing to do with the sweet words and shy, soft kisses turning into hard, open-handed slaps across the face, delivered by a wild-eyed rictus of someone they once thought they loved. 


Rather, a worse horror shows itself when the hubbub dies down, and the girl imagines that she’s overcome this sort of ordeal, and is finally able to carry on with her life; she may get a degree, and she might even fall in love with a nice Christian guy. 


It’s then, however, that she realizes that 1- she can’t ever tell him what happened to her (and expect to keep him), and 2- even if he forgives her for being a non-virgin, he’ll have a hard time blocking out the image of her being taken by a Muslim.  

 “Couldn’t she have fought harder?” he may ask.  

“Maybe she was partially willing, or actually liked what was being done to her,” he might muse. 


Egyptian men, it must be noted, aren’t known for being forgiving and level-headed when it comes to their property. I mean, their women.  And, on the off-chance that he could find it in his heart to forgive her, then he’s either a saint, or has a few “dirty little secrets” of his own, meaning he’s not as pure as he’d like his future wife to be. 


How awful it must seem to be an Egyptian woman in the world of stern and double-standard-issuing men, but that’s the way it is, and discussing, deconstructing, and dissecting the reasons “why” and thinking up “how to change it all” is a whole other article. 


So what’s the answer, then?   How can we prevent other cases of kidnapping in the future? After all, thank God that Theresa got loose and provided this eyewitness account, but the truth is that escaping from such a scenario is a bit of a rarity. 


In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it happening before, although another girl who was kidnapped earlier in the year—with an alarmingly similar name, actually—was able to phone her aunt from within her captors’ apartment, and let her relatives know that she had been taken and had not converted.


 (Read more about Theresa Ghattass Kamal at http://mychristianblood.blogspirit.com/archive/2006/02/27/egypt-christian-girl-kidnapped-by-muslim-militant-contacts-f.html#more 

And so, until things are better for every Egyptian, until every Muslim is pro-Copt and unequivocally stands with us against the horrible crimes of kidnapping and forced conversions, all I can really recommend is that we share these stories with the international media, make a big ruckus about them, and educate our precious Egyptian girls about the manners, methods, and models that the Muslims involved in these kidnappings commonly use.

 Sara Ghorab  

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