EGYPT: MYSTERY SHROUDS RELEASE OF WOMAN CONVERT
Police withhold Shaymaa Muhammad al-Sayed’s ID card, virtually eliminating all rights.
CAIRO, December 10 (Compass Direct News) – An Egyptian convert to Christianity released by police under murky circumstances has revealed details of her week-long detention last July that differ greatly from original reports of torture.
Speaking by telephone from Egypt through a translator at her side, a woman claiming to be Shaymaa Muhammad al-Sayed said police in Alexandria angrily interrogated her about why she became a Christian but treated her “not good, but not badly.”
But contradictions between the convert’s version of her detention and the testimony of eyewitnesses have raised questions about whether al-Sayed is under ongoing police pressure.
Of most concern now, Christian sources said, is Al-Sayed’s comment to Compass that police withheld her national ID card when they released her on July 23. Egyptian citizens must produce a national ID to carry out bank transactions, acquire a job, obtain a pension check and travel within or outside Egypt.
Lawyer Ramses el-Nagar, who said he met with the convert while she was in police custody in July and several times since her release, confirmed that she does not have an official ID.
According to El-Nagar, Egypt’s security police further complicated the issue of Al-Sayed’s identity by releasing the convert under her false Christian name – Maryan Eleya Saleeb.
Conversion from Islam to Christianity is forbidden in Egypt. The 26-year-old Al-Sayed had obtained forged papers under the last name Saleeb in order to live as a Christian when she left her family and converted in 2003.
But some of Al-Sayed’s friends remain puzzled by the strange nature of her release and current living arrangement, on her own – far from her family, who live in Alexandria, and apart from her husband.
“We are not sure if Shaymaa is out [of jail] yet, or if the one who was released was someone else,” one of the convert’s friends told Compass last month.
A Christian pastor added, “In our culture, it is very strange for a family, let alone a conservative Muslim family whose daughter has converted to Christianity, to allow their daughter to live and work alone.”
Al-Sayed, who asked that her location remain confidential, told Compass that she is now living on her own and working at a hair salon. She said she had obtained work as a hair dresser through old friends who had not requested that she produce personal documents.
But one of the convert’s friends commented to Compass that, by releasing Al-Sayed without any official papers, Egyptian authorities had put her in an extremely dangerous position.
“She has nothing to prove that she is alive,” the friend told Compass. “She is not a Muslim, and she has nothing to prove that she is a Christian. She does not exist. I think that if she would think about it well, she would be scared to go outside [her] door.”
Adding to the uncertainty are the seeming contradictions between the story the convert now tells about her detention and details first reported by witnesses.
Al-Sayed denied reports that security officials beat her and subjected her to electrical shocks. Her version that police in Alexandria – she was also questioned in Cairo – treated her “not good, but not badly” may reflect ongoing police pressure and the knowledge that her telephone is likely subject to surveillance, some Christian sources said.
Police held Al-Sayed purportedly to keep her safe from relatives who had beaten and threatened to kill her when they saw her at an Alexandrian fair on July 16. Al-Sayed claimed that she was alone at the fairgrounds that day.
But a source who spoke to fairground security guards the day after her arrest told Compass that the guards saw a man and a young child walking with the convert woman before she was accosted by her relatives.
Al-Sayed had married a Coptic man after leaving her family and converting in 2003. They had eventually left Alexandria for another part of Egypt to avoid the woman’s relatives, who filed reports with police over Al-Sayed’s disappearance.
While she was being transferred between Bab-Sharky police station and SSI headquarters in Al-Faraana during her detention, witnesses said that they had seen Al-Sayed with her shirt removed, wearing only a loose tunic that left her upper body partially exposed.
Al-Sayed told Compass that officials had interrogated her about why she became a Christian, and that a Muslim cleric had also visited her while in prison to discuss her change of faith.
The convert said that her family did not mistreat her after she was released from detention. Though some family members had wanted to kill her, she said that her father had protected her, arguing that it would be better to give her time to come back to Islam of her own will.
But eyewitness had said members of Al-Sayed’s family severely beat her in Shatby Cemetery behind the police station where she was released. A source told Compass that he had spoken with an eyewitness who saw four relatives surround and beat Al-Sayed as soon as she was released on July 23.
“She had not even crossed the street [after exiting the police station] when they began beating her,” the source said.
Egypt’s indigenous Coptic Christians make up an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the national population.
Though persecution of converts from Islam makes it impossible to know their exact number in Egypt, Human Rights Watch has estimated that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Egyptians who have left Islam for another faith.
Last month police detained Muslim convert to Christianity Siham Ibrahim Muhammad Hassan al-Sharqawi on the outskirts of Qena. She was last seen in police custody leaving Qena’s SSI headquarters on November 26.