Caption: Camillia Shehata
The relief over the return of Camillia Shehata back to her family was short lived and the media circus which her disappearance had created is back in full thrust. Camillia had vanished from her home on July 19, 2010 and returned back a week later by security forces after the speculations over her abduction and forced conversion to Islam almost ripped the country apart. The intervention of security forces was to curb another episode that might have flamed sectarian violence as a result of demonstrations that erupted by her fellow Copts in several churches around the country.
Upon her return Camillia explained that she had voluntarily left her home after a family dispute with her husband, Priest Tadros Samman, and she was neither abducted nor forced into conversion. The Priest’s wife was handed back to her family in the church after which she was transferred to an undisclosed location. This family dispute that had caused the media frenzy should have ended by her return. And it did until Camillia’s news surfaced again. This time the demonstrations that a month earlier were led by her fellow Christians were replaced by ones led by Muslims who claimed that she had converted to Islam. Since she belonged to their camp, she thus required their support, guardianship and protection — and demanded the church to hand her over to them.
Meanwhile, on August 26, a group of Copts arrived to Cairo to protest the disappearance of another girl from her family house in Upper Egypt. They expressed their fear that the girl was also abducted and forced to convert. What was interesting about this protest was that the protesters chanted slogans in favor of the regime and addressing the son of Mubarak as their future president.
Egypt is in turmoil and the dormant volcano of sectarian violence is bubbling under the surface ready to erupt. But when their future is vague and hazy, their security and religious freedom are at stake, fear united the Copts around the aligning regime since the devil they know is better than the one they don’t.
In a country like Egypt where Islam and Christianity are deeply embedded into the fabric of the society, religion plays an integral part in people’s lives. Such incidents create continues sparks between the Egyptians and thus defending their religion becomes a priority above their citizenship. Stories like Camillia’s when printed on front pages become the fuel that feeds the fire of the sectarian violence. There is no doubt that the first part of Camillia’s story was true, but there are hidden forces that were obviously not satisfied by her return. Someone must benefit from all these rumors that circulate on the internet about her conversion to Islam. If she had in fact been incarcerated in an undisclosed location by the church, as per the rumors, then who had created the website in her name with her photographs wearing the veil?
The drama escalated by the day as we read about Islamist lawyers demanding her release from the church and requesting a search warrant to inspect all monasteries in search of her. The hysteria culminated when it was reported that another group of Islamist lawyers filed a lawsuit in an Egyptian administrative court against Coptic Pope Shenouda to compel him to release the alleged Muslim convert Camillia Shehata.
A Christian woman returned back to her husband after a family dispute should not cause such controversy to Muslims over her non-evidenced conversion. The problem with Camillia Shehat’s saga is not whether she had converted or not, but rather it yet demonstartes another case of oppression in a society where women have no voice of their own. Camillia had wished to leave her husband, but not only the laws of her church wouldn’t allow her to do so, but she was also criminalized for this act and punished. She is a classical case of a woman suffering of man’s tyranny.
But to keep such story in the spotlight and to feed it with rumors that spark sectarian violence make the motives so suspicious; for these new developments achieved nothing other than polarizing, alienating and distracting people from the real issues that are taking place in Egypt.
The question remains of whether the news was fabricated by media frenzy to sell more news, since readers have been fed by nothing but false information and speculations about her whereabouts. If this is the case then those who are responsible should be found and punished. Or is it an organized effort to ignite the emotions of people from both camps for political gain.
Playing on the emotions of simple people is unethical. But since when politics was known for its morality. This insanity must stop because once the water starts boiling it will be very hard to put the lid back on, and Egyptians will pay a very severe price.
And the saga continues ……
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