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EGYPT: President Mubarak sued in disappearance of priest's wife

August 30, 2010 |  9:20 am

45125REUTERS4723rThree lawyers have filed a lawsuit against President Hosni Mubarak, holding him indirectly responsible for the disappearance of a priest's wife following her alleged conversion from Christianity to Islam.

Kamelia Shehata Zakher, wife of priest Thaddeus Samaan Rizk of Mowas Priory church in Minya, 152 miles south of Cairo, disappeared for five days last month before security authorities found and returned her to her husband.

Zakher has been out of sight since then, and the lawyers are claiming that she is being locked up in an unknown monastery by Coptic authorities, who aim to "force her back into Christianity."

According to solicitors Nezar Ghorab, Gamal Tag and Tarek Abubakr, the patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox church, Pope Shenouda III, issued an "illegal and a negative administrative decision to detain Zakher in a Coptic monastery on July 24 because of her conversion to Islam."

Since Mubarak is the only person entitled to appoint or dismiss the Coptic pope, the lawyers argue the president is fully responsible for Shenouda's decisions. The Egyptian constitution obliges President Mubarak to issue a decree canceling the Coptic pope's "negative decision," the lawyers say.

The complicated case underscores continuing tensions between the country's Muslim majority and Christian minority. The lawyers describe Shenouda's supposed act as sectarian and a threat to Egyptian unity. 

Egyptian media reported that Zakher converted to Islam over a year ago, and that she decided to desert her husband and move to Cairo, where the 25-year-old would publicly announce her conversion at the famous Al Azhar mosque with the help of a cleric in July.

Azhar officials said that Zakher did not seek out their help. The Coptic Church has declined to comment publicly on the thorny issue.

On Saturday after evening prayers, hundreds of Muslims held a peaceful protest outside a mosque in downtown Cairo, where they carried banners and shouted slogans demanding that Coptic officials reveal Zakher's whereabouts and calling on Al Azhar's top cleric to weigh in on the topic.

The Arabian Network for Human Rights described Zakher's case as a forced disappearance.

Conversions from Christianity to Islam and vice versa in Egypt create critical situations that often lead to sectarian clashes between Copts, who form at least 10% of Egypt's population of 80 million people, and the country's Muslim majority.

Despite Saturday's demonstration and another sit-in organized by Copts in Minya during Zakher's first disappearance, no violence has erupted as a result of the case so far.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Pope Shenouda III. Credit: Reuters

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