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Tension is escalating over the case of 14-year-old Nancy Magdy Fathy, and her 16-year old cousin Christine Ezzat Fathy, who have disappeared and allegedly converted to Islam. Many parties are being pulled into the dispute over their future, including Al Azhar, the Church, activists and lately Islamist organizations, which are threatening violence against the church.

According to a story by Mary Abdelmassih for the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), the story of the missing girls became public after they disappeared while on their way to church on June 12. A the two day sit-in staged by Copts in front of the Minya Security Headquarters, demanding Nancy and Christine’s return, focused attention on their story.

AINA said rumors in the media emerged as to their whereabouts, the identity of the perpetrators and whether the girls were actually traded to another Muslim’s gang.

Nearly two weeks after they disappeared, Nancy and Christine were found in Cairo wearing Burkas. They were stopped in the street by a police officer when he noticed that one of them had a cross tattooed on her wrist, as many Copts have.

AINA said the girls told the policeman they converted to Islam and did not marry any Muslims sheikh as the newspapers said, but fearing the wrath of their parents, they sought shelter at the home of a Muslim man. He issued a report of the incident and let them go.

Nancy and Christine subsequently surrendered at a Cairo police station.

AINA said an investigation into their disappearance was launched, as their parents accused two Muslim brothers from a neighboring village of abducting them. They were also asked about the video clip which appeared on the Internet, taken in Tahrir Square, where Nancy and Christine allegedly converted to Islam.

According to the investigators, AINA said, the girls said they converted to Islam of their own free will, and refused to return to their families, and even applied for protection from them. The prosecution decided to put them in a state care home and provide protection until the completion of the investigation. Authorities also wanted an Al-Azhar scholar to determine if they really believe in Islam.

AINA said this has angered their families, who said their girls are minors and should not be subjected to such procedures. Both families and the Egyptian Federation of Human Rights Organization protested on June 25 in front of the office of the prosecutor general, and demanded that their children to be returned to them.

Al Azhar and the Fatwa (religious edict) Committee denied that the two Coptic teenagers had converted to Islam, because they are still minors and have not yet reached 18 years of age, as is required by law.

The families’ lawyer, Dr Naguib Gabriel, said the decision to deliver the girls to the state care home belonging to the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood is contrary to the law, because they are still minors, noting that Al-Azhar said that it does not recognize their conversion, and therefore the two girls should be returned to their families.

AINA said Gabriel added that he had complained to the Egyptian Public Prosecutor, on behalf of the families, as they oppose handing Nancy and Christine over to the care home. He explained that the decision taken by prosecution in this case confirms the hypothesis that they converted to Islam, despite that being contrary to the law and the Al-Azhar fatwa.

AINA reported Gabriel said that there is a possibility the two girls were subjected to pressure in order to say they converted to Islam of their free will. Another possibility is they fear the reaction of their families in case they return home, especially since they come from an ultra conservative Upper Egyptian society, where the disappearance of a girl for days is considered a scandal and a shame. He said he will obtain a pledge from their families to protect them, and not to harm them in any way upon their return.

AINA said the security director of Minya told Al-Ahram newspaper on June 17 the two girls are considered minors before the law and the authorities, and therefore their conversion to Islam and their marriage is not recognized officially as they do not yet have the necessary ID card, which is issued from the age of 16. On this basis, anyone involved in the incident will be punished according to the law.

AINA said the two Muslim brothers accused by the fathers are in detention pending investigation. The family of the accused have protested, calling for their release because Nancy and Christine said they left home voluntarily and were not abducted.

AINA said the Egyptian daily newspaper ElYoum7 published a statement from the Islamist “Alliance for the support of New Muslim Women,” in which the group threatened to carry out “extended protests” in all governorates in Egypt if Nancy and Christine are returned to the church.

The Alliance emphasized in its statement the protests this time will escalate violently, saying “We will not retreat this time, until each captive is free and out of the monasteries in which they are held as prisoners.”

AINA reported the statement also said, “We say it openly, that we will not go back again to the era when newly converted Muslim women were delivered to the church, which wants to tempt them away from their religion, or forcibly detain them in reprisal for choosing freely their faith.”

In the past, AINA said, the Alliance had staged over 20 demonstrations every Friday in support of Kamilia Shehata, the priest’s wife whom they claim converted to Islam but was held captive by the church. That despite Al Azhar confirming that she never set foot there, and her appearance twice in public to refute all their claims of her conversion.

“The daily abduction and forced Islamization of Coptic minors, conducted by Muslims funded by Saudi Arabia, has escalated to new levels after the January 25th Revolution,” said Coptic activist Mark Ebeid, “and has greatly enraged the Copts.”

AINA said he added, “Everyone is now fearing that they might not be able to stand it any longer with the continuous Islamists provocations.”

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