Saving Sarah From the Egyptian Salafis, by Archbishop Council Nedd II & Deacon J.T. Griffin

nedd_smAlmost six months into the reign of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, many people in the West and even Egypt lament the “Arab Spring” overthrow of long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak.

America and Mubarak shared a concern for anti-Western Muslim fundamentalists seeking to turn Egypt into an Islamic state. Mubarak’s treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood and other critics was undeniably harsh, but he did protect the weakest members of Egyptian society — specifically women, children and Egypt’s Christian minority.

Morsi took a very different approach. Pandering to those fundamentalists, it’s essentially “open season” on Egypt’s defenseless and disenfranchised.

For example, a 14-year-old girl named Sarah Ishaq Abdel-Malek is missing. She was taken from her family for likely sexually exploitation. Government authorities appear to know where she is being held and who is holding her, but she likely remains missing because she is a Coptic Christian held by fundamentalist Salafi Muslims.

The Salafis are strict Muslims with literal interpretations of the Koran and the writings of the Prophet Mohammed. They are determined to ensure Christian women only birth Muslim children, and to that end, they forcibly kidnap young Christian girls.

Copts are one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East. According to the ancient church historian Eusebius of Caesarea, Christianity was introduced in Egypt by St. Mark — one of the original twelve apostles — in 42 A.D. That’s shortly after the ascension of Christ and during the reign of the Roman emperor Claudius.

Nevertheless, current social and political unrest in Morsi’s Egypt gives Salafis carte blanche to torment Christians.

According to personal conversations with the family and Internet accounts, Sarah — who lives in Al-Dabaa, on the Mediterranean coast northwest of Cairo — was last seen by her cousin Mariam on September 30 while going to school.

Sarah is said to have caught the eye of Mahmoud Abu Zeid Abdel-Gawad, the son of a local Salafi leaders. Sarah and Mariam visited Gawad’s bookstore, located near their school, the day she disappeared. Mariam last saw Sarah at the store.

Two-and-a-half hours after her disappearance, Sarah’s father formally report his daughter missing. Days later, he accused Gawad of kidnapping Sarah.

What happened next is deeply disturbing. Sarah’s father received a telephone call from Gawad’s uncle, who told him that he would never see his daughter again.

A local police officer denied to the press that Sarah was kidnapped, saying Sarah’s father never reported her missing. While the officer suggested Sarah ran away with her boyfriend, this assertion withers in the direct sunlight of truth.

For one thing, it doesn’t square with the Salafis’ own account of Sarah’s fate.

On October 28, the local Salafi leadership warned human rights organizations against attempting to return Sarah to her family. They claimed Sarah converted to Islam and married a Muslim.

But, under Egyptian law, Sarah cannot make such decisions because of her age.

Furthermore, Sarah’s brother, Hani, directly contradicts significant elements of the officer’s narrative:

We reported her missing two hours after her disappearance. The report’s number is 409. There is also another police report 582 filed October 20th, filed against Abdel-Gawad, accusing him of kidnapping my sister, forcing her to marry him and convert to Islam.

Prosecutor-General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud issued an arrest warrant for Gawad on November 4 on charges of abducting and marrying a Christian adolescent. Sarah, however, has not yet been found. Whether Gawad will actually be arrested or made to answer the charges is questionable.

Unfortunately, Sarah’s story is not unique. It follows a well-established pattern of abuses that, especially since the fall of Mubarak, are commonplace. Reports submitted by anti-trafficking specialist Michele Clark and Coptic women’s rights advocate Nadia Ghaly to The Coptic Foundation for Human Rights and Christian Solidarity International document dozens of cases similar to Sarah’s.

Like many other Christian girls in Egypt, Sarah’s situation — and that of her family — is a desperate one. It may be that only God’s direct and sovereign deliverance will avail for her now.

Pray for her, fervently. Sarah Ishay Abdel-Malek is united to us, in Christ. What happens to her affects the whole body.

President Morsi recently rescinded sweeping dictatorial powers he granted himself just weeks before — thus making enemies of his friends in a miserably failed attempt to make friends of his enemies.

If Morsi is as concerned about perception as he now appears to be, he should enforce the laws on the books. He should arrest Sarah’s kidnappers. It’s not like authorities don’t seem to know where to find her.

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Archbishop Council Nedd II, a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 black leadership network, is the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Missionary Church. J.T. Griffin is a deacon with the Episcopal Missionary Church.  Comments may be sent to [email protected].

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