EGYPT/INTERNATIONAL: Fresh plea to help abused Christian girls

Professor Michele Clark who carried out first-hand research into the kidnapping of Egypt's Christian women.
Professor Michele Clark who carried out first-hand research into the kidnapping of Egypt's Christian women.

A human-rights expert has called on governments to take orchestrated attacks on Christian women seriously and offer help to survivors – including asylum.

Professor Michele Clark – who carried out first-hand research into cases in Egypt involving Coptic Christian women being kidnapped, forced to convert and sexually abused under the cover of marriage – said that governments need to provide proper help and protection in such cases.

She said: “Politicians must ensure that a safe place is available to those who have experienced religious violence. This also concerns asylum policies.”

Prof Clark stressed that the need to act was now greater than ever as “Violence against Christian women is a weapon being used to wage war against religious minorities.”

Michele Clark, who until her retirement last year was adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs, said government action is necessary because of a surge in cases.

She said: “This is not a new phenomenon, unfortunately, but the attacks against Christian women have increased in number… More cases are being reported.

“But many cases are left unreported. The case study published by ACN documents a number of known situations on behalf of many others.”

Prof Clark’s research fed into Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)’s Hear Her Cries report which looked at the kidnapping, forced conversion and sexual victimisation of Christian women and girls in Egypt, Pakistan, Africa and the Middle East, which was launched on #RedWednesday 2021 in late November.

The report found the situation had “demonstrably worsened” in many regions but that it continues to be under-reported – meaning the full scale of the crisis remains largely hidden.

Prof Clark described how women are targeted in Egypt.

She said: “There is evidence that these attacks are planned down to the last detail. There is a method behind them.”

One former member of a kidnapping gang that seized Coptic girls went on record in 2017 to describe how these abductions are carefully planned, before the girls are passed to Salafist groups who force them to convert and marry.

The former gang member stated that kidnappers are well paid by the hard-line groups.

Even if these women do manage to escape, which is rare, they face problems.

Prof Clark said: “If a Christian woman is forced to convert or is forcibly married to a Muslim, it is impossible for her to return to her Christian faith – even if she can free herself or is released from the marriage.

“If the woman has children, these children will always remain Muslim. We were able to document that mothers and their children are a growing target group.

“You are not only removing a single person from the group of Christians, but a mother and her progeny.”

Prof Clark highlighted how, when she first published her ground-breaking research 13 years ago, there was resistance to the findings – but said that was changing.

She said: “There was a time, for example, when cases of violence against Coptic Christian women in Egypt were referred to as ‘alleged cases’. However, these cases are backed by evidence.

“The more politics and the media recognise that we are talking about actual cases and legitimate interests, the more these reports will be taken seriously.

“It is becoming increasingly apparent that this is a real threat. That is reason enough for a public outcry.”

Original interview by André Stiefenhofer