A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

An Odd Case Involving the Coptic Church

You already know I have a soft spot for Coptic issues, though not always a defensive or apologetic one. The latest broiling controversy is a sort of Looking-Glass version of the usual charge that Copts are being forcibly abducted and converted to Islam: a charge that a priest's wife who has voluntarily converted to Islam has been abducted or held against her will be church authorities. If it's true, it will harm the church and Church-State relations equally.

The wife disappeared in July, leading to protests by Copts who believed she'd been kidnapped. Protests spread. Soon, however, the story shifted, after reports she had asked for leave from her job before her disappearance and took 43,000 -Egyptian pounds from her account, suggesting she was planning to leave. Soon it was reported she had converted to Islam, and rumors spread that she was being held in a Coptic church or monastery. Some reports say authorities located her and returned her to her husband, after which she dropped from sight. Coptic demonstrators for her return were replaced by Muslim demonstrators outside churches demanding her release. The rumor, not confirmed but so far as I csn tell not denid either, is that the church has stashed her away in a monastery.

Now some attorneys are suing Pope Shenouda to force her release.
Even President Mubarak is not immune: he's being sued too, to no effect of course.

If the current narrative is true, and I have no direct evidence that it is, then this is not a Coptic-Muslim issue but a women's rights issue, in which a woman may have been returned by authorities to a husband she voluntarily fled, and then sequestered by the church (to make her see the error of her ways?).

What's really ironic if any of this is true is that Coptz have complained for years of young Copts who are converted to Islam and then, to prevent backsliding, separated from their community. If this story is true, the Coptx mzy be doing the mirror image of that.

Camillia Shehata, wherever she may be, should choose her own future. As Copts and Muslims posture and sue in the courts, I hope someone asks Camillia (if she cn be located) what she wants.

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