THE CAMILIA CRISIS: AN EXERCISE IN ISLAMIST INTIMIDATION AND TERROR أزمة كاميليا : تمرين في التهديد الاسلامي والإرهاب
The Coptic Camilia Shehata, 25, exposed to intimidation and terror by the Islamists in Egypt
Camilia Shehata Zakher [i] is an ordinary 25 year old Coptic school teacher from Deir Mawas, Minya in Upper Egypt, and wife of Father Tadros Samaan, the Coptic priest of Saint Mark’s Church in Mawas Cathedral, Minya, where there is a large concentration of Copts, but also a strong presence of the Islamists/Salafists, including Jama’a Islamiya, Jihad and Wahabists, who over the last months and years have been, together with their colleagues in other villages and towns of Egypt, stirring anti-Coptic sentiment; preaching hate; involved in intimidations against the peaceful Coptic communities; attacking their churches and properties; and injuring and killing some. Even al-Qaeda, which is the central point for all these groups, has added its weight, and called its followers to attack Copts everywhere – the Alexandria Massacre on New Year Day 2011 being the latest, and which led to 23 Copts being dead.
Camilia inadvertently entered the annals of history when In July 2010 she disappeared from her home, but after a few days she reappeared in Cairo at the flat of one of her Coptic relatives. It was believed that her disappearance was due to a marital dispute with her husband. So far, it looked like any other regular incident, but the Islamists have chosen to make it a public matter, and complicated her case, converting it into an unnecessarily clash between the Muslims and the Coptic community. They alleged that Camilia, on disappearance, converted to Islam and that, upon reappearance, she was forced back to Christianity. Despite much evidence to the contrary, the Islamists would not listen. Such evidence included a statement by Dr. Saliem al-Awwa, himself an Islamist who is not known for his sympathies with the Copts, who said on TV that Camilia never converted to Islam – you can watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VOWfEh1w_w . Not only him, but even Dr. Ahmad al-Tayyib, the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar, denied in Egyptian press that Camilia ever converted to Islam in the presence of Azhari representatives.[ii] [iii] Moreover, Camilia herself appeared in video, published by the Egyptian daily, El-Youm7, and in which she denied the Islamists’ allegations, and confirmed that she was Christian, and that she never became Muslim – you can watch her video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5csSijSaA8
In the video, during which shooting a reporter from the daily was present, and who confirmed its authenticity, Camilia says:
Iam Christian with all my heart… I am talking to you in full freedom and without any pressure or intimidation. I am appearing to defend my husband, my child, my Church and my religion which is Christianity.
She then goes on to deny having been subject to torture, brainwashing or being detained in a monastery or church, as alleged by the Islamists, and then she adds:
This is illogical because the Church teaches us to love, but I assure you that I am in a safe and pleasant place.[iv]
But, not convinced of any evidence, and resolved to make it an issue with the Coptic Church, the Islamists declared that their top objective as a new political group in Egypt following the Revolution was “freeing Camilia from the grips of the Church”; and on 29 April 2011, around 5,000 of them, after Friday prayer, marched to the Coptic Patriarchate in Abbasiyya, Cairo, demanding Camilia’s “release”, the ouster of Pope Shenouda, and his trial for criminal offenses. To Copts and all independent observers, it is clear that the Islamists are using Camilia’s case as a rallying cry against the Copts, and to prove their existence on Egypt’s political theatre and justification as the staunchest defenders of Muhammadanism in a country that suffers from high rates of poverty and illiteracy.
Islamists full of hate using Camilia’s case to press for their agenda
(here they use a re-worked picture showing her clad in an Islamic veil, which she never wore)
In their campaign to intimidate the Copts and the Coptic Church, the Islamists, in addition to their traditional methods, called for boycotting of Coptic businesses, and further marginalising the Copts. But maybe what could have been the most serious development, had it not been so laughable, is their claim that their agitation for Camilia’s “release” is for religious freedom and human rights’ sake: the Church, they say, has imprisoned her, and prevented her from converting to Islam. So they seem to have learned from their masters in subterfuge, the Muslim Brotherhood, to put a liberal-democratic cloak on their religionist and racist rhetoric, to cover it in order to deceive and to annoy at the same time.
The Copts must understand that this is not about Camilia, or any of what the Islamists call “her sisters” who they allege have been kidnapped by the Coptic Church to prevent their conversion to Islam. As with the Governor of Qena’s case, this is a battle for domination – and in this battle they use all sorts of intimidation and terrorism, not only against the Copts, but also against the Moderate Muslims, who look at these Islamists, and their claims, with disgust. If they win Camilia’s case, and manage to resist the appointment of a Coptic governor to Qena, they will spread their influence and authority over all Egypt. This, with the case of the Qena Governor, is the first of a series of battles in the process of Islamisation of Egypt[v] and the surrender of Egypt to the dark and intolerant forces of Islamic fanaticism.
Coptic Nationalism is, therefore, appalled to find that some Copts do not understand the symbolic importance of this battle. Some call for Camilia’s “release”, as if she is under arrest by the Church, and some unfairly criticise Pope Shenouda for “mishandling of the situation”, as they say. Fearing attacks against themselves, some see no moral problem in scarifying some of our girls to the whims of the Islamists. They forget in the process that Camilia is a Copt; that she is Christian by her own admission; that she is not imprisoned by the Church; that she is, in fact, hiding away from the Islamists who pose a real risk on her freedom and life. When the Sunni sources, in which these Islamists strongly believe, say that an apostate from Islam must be killed; when Muhammad’s Hadith, “Whoever changes his (Islamic) religion, kill him,”[vi] can be quoted, there is no chance that the Islamists can claim the moral superiority on this matter, or be able to present it as a battle for religious liberty on their part. The Copts, and with them the world, must know that Camilia is hiding from the Islamists because if she comes out, she will be killed unless she declares that she is Muslim. As we have seen in the video, she has said publicly that she is Christian, but the Islamists wouldn’t listen – they are convinced that she did convert to Islam. Now, getting the Islamists involved in her choice of Faith will end in one of two horrible outcomes for her: either she converts to Islam, against her wish, because of their threats and intimidation of herself, family and community, in order to avoid application of had al-ridda (the penalty for apostasy, which is execution) on her, and attacks on her family and Copts; or she stays put, and confirm her Faith in Christ, for which she will nevertheless be killed by the Islamists for apostasy as they are convinced that she did become Muslim last year when she left her home first time! You can see her dilemma, and hope you will understand then the concerns of our Church leadership for her safety.
Today, 30th April, news came that the Egyptian Public Prosecution ordered the Coptic Church to release Camilia so that she may appear before the law. This is insane: regardless of the dangers that her appearance publicly may put her in, Camilia’s faith is a private matter and is her own business alone–-it is none of the business of the Islamists, the Public Prosecution or the State. The Coptic Church cannot hand over one of her followers who is hiding from the intimidation and terrorism of the Islamists – if it did, it will lose credibility with many Copts, let alone betraying its spiritual duty. It is a relief that news followed suit rapidly that the Church refuses the Public Prosecution’s order.
The Camilia crisis is becoming intimidation of the Copts and the Coptic Church on a larger scale; but the Copts, and their Church, are accustomed to that. They will resist any order from Caesar that will not respect’s what is God’s. Copts everywhere must understand that this is not a simple individual’s case, important though as it is for Camila and her family, who must be languishing under tremendous stress and fear – it is a matter of collective significance: it will decide the legal status of the Copts in Egypt for the foreseeable future, if the Copts, or the Coptic Church, capitulate. This is a clash, which we didn’t want, didn’t create, didn’t invite; but it was planned, manufactured and pushed to the forefront of politics by the Islamists – it is a clash between the Egyptian forces of modernity, religious liberty and tolerance, and the forces of Islamic fundamentalism, religious despotism and intolerance.
To what camp will the Egyptian State lean, and with whom will it side? And what will the international community do? These are questions which we will have to wait to see the answers for. But the Egyptian authorities, as represented in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the Ministry, must know very well that they are playing with fire; that they are paving the way to lasting divisions in the Egyptian polity; that the international community know that they are dithering and wavering when they are expected not to; that they are failing in their duty to protect the Copts and their basic freedoms and human rights; that they cannot continue to do so for long, and that the world cannot afford to let them do so; that, due to their failures, coming on the heels of past failures by Mubarak and Sadat, Egypt has now been classified by the United States, Egypt’s foremost friend, as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) because of its serious violations of the Copts’ religious freedom; that soon economic sanctions may be imposed on Egypt; and that once economic sanctions are imposed, they should blame only themselves for their continuing negligence and incompetence in running the affairs of Egypt to international standards.
But, to solve the problem, the Coptic Nationalists propose a solution to this crisis: Camilia can be smuggled out of Egypt, where religious liberty does not exist, to a safe and free country where she can conduct her life in peace and in the way she chooses, away from the intimidation and terrorism of the Islamists. There she can freely decide whatever religion she wants to follow, or, indeed, no religion at all. We urge the Western powers, particularly the United States of America and the European Union, to help with this proposal, or indeed take complete ownership of it.
What the USCIRF’s Annual Report 2011, published on 28 April 2011, says about Camilia Shehata
In July 2010, Camilia Shehata, the wife of a Coptic bishop in the Minya province, reportedly left her home after a family dispute. Rumors surfaced in the Christian community that she had been kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam, and Coptic Christians participated in large-scale demonstrations demanding her return. After a few days passed, representatives of the Coptic Church stated that she had never converted to Islam and that she had returned home safely and willingly. Nevertheless, the incident sparked outrage within Islamist and extremist circles. For example, weeks after the incident, some Islamist groups urged Bedouins in Sinai to kidnap and kill Christian tourists in retaliation for the alleged kidnapping of Shehata, who they claimed converted to Islam and was being held against her will by the Coptic Church. They also made reference to Wafaa Constantine, another wife of a Coptic priest, who they alleged also had converted to Islam and was kidnapped by the Coptic Church in December 2004.According to representatives of the Coptic Church, Constantine also had been involved in a dispute with her husband and never had converted to Islam. In addition, in its claim of responsibility for the October31, 2010 attack on a church in Baghdad, an al Qaeda-affiliated group in Iraq stated that the attack was in retaliation for the Coptic Church in Egypt‘s detention against their will of Shehata and Constantine, even though the women themselves disputed these allegations. The group stated that the Coptic Church had 48hours to free Shehata and Constantine, otherwise al Qaeda would target Christians in Egypt and elsewhere in the region.
[i] Or Kamilia Shehata Zakher.
[v] They call it Kamilia’s ghazwa (raid).