Christian med student kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam

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Authorities in Egypt have abetted the kidnapping and forcible conversion to Islam of a

Irene Ibrahim Shehata (Facebook)

Coptic Christian woman, according to a widely published expert on the Middle East and Islam.

Irene Ibrahim Shehata, a 21-year-old medical student at Asyut National University, disappeared on Jan. 22 between mid-term exams in Asyut, according to Raymond Ibrahim, Distinguished Senior Shillman Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.

Her father reported in February that she had managed to make a desperate, tearful call to her brother before a man seized the phone and said, “Okay, you heard her voice and know she’s okay, right? Now go to hell!” before disconnecting, Ibrahim wrote in a report for rights watchdog Coptic Solidarity.

During the call, Shehata begged her brother either to rescue her or consider her dead and told him her location, according to an Egyptian source whose name is withheld.

“Her brother heard her screaming, someone was yelling at her, and then the call ended,” the source said. “It seems that she used his phone without his permission. This was a great piece of evidence that she was kidnapped.”

Photo: Irene Ibrahim Shehata was kidnapped in Asyut, Egypt on Jan. 22, 2024. (Coptic Solidarity)

Having learned that she was in the city of Sohaj, the family went there and reported the phone call and her location to police, he said.

“The police officers threatened to arrest the family if they tried to rescue her and warned them that the kidnappers are armed,” he said.

On Feb. 21, police told her family that the kidnappers had changed her location to an unknown place, the source said.

“Another way to mislead families,” he said. “The Muslim Brotherhood Sharia Association in the Asyut Governorate, under security cover from Asyut and Sohaj cities, coordinated the kidnapping of Christian college student Irene Shehata.”

While officials eventually charged an unidentified man, State Security officials have been dismissive and hostile to Shehata’s family, telling her father that she ran off with a Muslim man of her own free will, according to Ibrahim, a U.S.-born Egyptian who is fluent Arabic.

“The father further stressed that, if Irene had intended to run off with a Muslim man, why would she do it in between exams, while carrying medical supplies” rather than travel items, he said.

State Security officials know exactly where Shehata is, the father said in an interview on social media, but refuse to act or let her family speak or meet with her, according to Ibrahim. He said State Security had provided the family with several false leads that led Shehata’s father and brother to travel up and down Egypt in futility.

Her family on Feb. 29 released a statement revealing that electronic records showed the religion field on her national ID had been changed to “Muslim” against her will, adding, “It is another way to force families to give up,” Ibrahim reported.

“The family also made perfectly clear that they have confirmed that a Muslim Brotherhood network – with a complicit State Security – is behind the abduction of Irene and many other Coptic girls,” Ibrahim stated.

He said the family described her kidnappers as “an organized terrorist group led by the Muslim Brotherhood to kidnap Christian girls in the Middle East.” Six other Christian girls or women “disappeared” from the area in one recent month, the father said.

The difficulty of documenting countless cases of trafficked Coptic women in Egypt is one reason for lack of action and international attention to the issue, according to Christian Solidarity’s 2020 report, “Jihad of the Womb: Trafficking of Coptic Women & Girls in Egypt.” Government officials’ assertions that the girls and women have gone willingly also blocks efforts to end the heinous crimes, it noted.

“While few cases are genuine marriages, Coptic Solidarity estimates about 500 cases within the last decade where elements of coercion were used that amount to trafficking,” the report stated. “According to a former member of one of these kidnapping rings, the abduction of such girls is now at an all-time high.”

The Islamist kidnapping rings arrange for a Muslim leader to make conversion official, issuing a certificate and changing the religion designation on their national ID, the report stated.

“These networks are often supported by like-minded members (including high-ranking officials) of the police, national security and local administrations,” Christian Solidarity reported. “Their roles include refusal to lodge official complaints by the victims’ families, falsifying police investigations, organizing the formal sessions of conversion to Islam at Al-Azhar, or harassing families into silence and acceptance of the de facto trafficking of their loved ones.”

Egypt ranked 38th on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

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