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Tuesday 01.03.2005, CET 02:01

 

February 28, 2005 3:00 PM

 

Egyptian Christians protest at "kidnapping"

 

CAIRO (Reuters) - Hundreds of angry Christians have demonstrated at a church southwest of Cairo in protest at what

they describe as the kidnapping and forced conversion of two young women to Islam, police sources say.

 

It was the second incident of its kind in three months in Egypt, where there are sporadic outbreaks of violence and

tension between the Muslim and Christian communities.

 

The two women, medical graduates Marianne Makram Ayad and Teresa Ibrahim, went to the home of relatives after

spending Sunday evening under police protection in the town of Fayoum, 90 km (55 miles) from Cairo, church sources

said on Monday. It was not clear whether they still considered themselves Christian.

 

In the Mar Girgis church in the town on Sunday, hundreds of Christian men carrying crosses had demanded the

women return to their community, on the grounds that they had been compelled to convert.

 

A security official said in a statement that Christian religious leaders were giving the two young women advice.

"(Official) measures proclaiming them Muslim have not been taken," the official said on Monday.

 

Conversion is a sensitive subject in Egypt. Coptic Christians are free to convert to Islam while Muslims cannot convert

to Christianity. Muslim men can marry Coptic women but Coptic men cannot marry Muslim women without converting.

 

To address Christian concerns, the Egyptian authorities often insist that potential converts discuss their motives with

priests before their decision becomes irrevocable.

 

In December, a similar case northwest of Cairo led to a sit-in and clashes with police at Cairo's main cathedral. The

wife of a priest had said she planned to convert to Islam, which would have automatically annulled her marriage.

 

 

Reuters