Rowan Williams: will the friendship he seeks have any substance? (BBC)
Their crime? Possessing Bibles and other Christian material. From Ekklesia:
Four Christians have been arrested in Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt after police found that they had Bibles and Christian music tapes in their possession, according to reports received by the Jubilee Campaign.
The four Christians – Peter Nady Kamel, Ishaq Dawoud Yassa, John Adel and Andrew Sa’id – all University students at Cairo or Minya Universities. They had gone together to the beach resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh, by the Red Sea, for a Christian retreat and stayed at a hotel.
They were arrested in their hotel rooms by local police at 9 a.m on January 26th 2004. Their rooms were searched and all their possessions confiscated. The four Christians have been charged with forming a group that threatens the national unity, social peace and national security. They appeared before the District Prosecutor on January 29 and March 28. Their next appearance before the Prosecutor is scheduled for May 8 and their detention has been extended at least till that date.
Jubilee Campaign believes it is highly likely that the Christians have been wrongly accused of having the Bibles and Christian tapes for the purposes of evangelising Muslims, since such actions are often condemned by the authorities as “threatening national unity”.
Pope Shenouda the Third, Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, mentioned briefly the arrest of the Christians in a speech, but did not say who the detained Christians were. In that same speech Pope Shenouda publicly condemned the kidnapping of Christian girls at supermarkets. These girls are falsely told that they have won a prize and to go upstairs to collect it. When they go to collect it, they are kidnapped for forced conversion to Islam.
The families of the kidnapped girls met with Pope Shenouda on Sunday March 21st and had a second meeting with him on Thursday March 25th. At the second meeting, Colonel Ahmad Mostafa, a police officer with special responsibilities for affairs of the Christian community, was present. He listened to the families’ accounts regarding the kidnapping of their family members but did not make any comments.
The Christian human rights organisation, Jubilee Campaign, has been campaigning for kidnapped Egyptian Christian girls for several years and believe that the forced conversion of Egyptian Christians to Islam is an escalating problem, fuelled by police and government indifference to the plight of Christian kidnap victims.
Jubilee Campaign’s Researcher and Parliamentary Officer, Wilfred Wong, said; ” While Jubilee Campaign welcomes the police officer’s willingness to meet with the families of kidnap victims, we know that the Egyptian authorities have in the past shown apparent concern for the problems of Egyptian Christians, only to end up doing nothing concrete about it. We therefore intend to continue lobbying the Egyptian government regarding the kidnapping of Christians until they actually ensure that the victims are returned to their families and the kidnappers are punished.
“We are also campaigning for the release of the four detained Egyptian Christians. It is unusual for Egyptian Christians to get into trouble just for having Bibles and Christian tapes in their possession and these arrests signify an increasing willingness by the police to detain Christians on the slightest pretext.”
Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has opened a Christian-Muslim dialogue meeting with high hopes for a “deepening of understanding and of friendship between us.” Will he ask his Muslim dialogue partners, in the interests of friendship, to denounce the persecution and harassment of Christians in Egypt?