Camilia Shehata, a woman at the center of a religious dispute between Coptic Christians and Muslims in Egypt, has appeared with her husband and child in a new picture published by Al Ahram.
The 26-year old Ms. Shehata, the wife of priest Tadros Samaan, disappeared in July 2010 after reportedly converting to Islam, prompting anger among Islamists who have protested multiple times and have threatened to protest in front of a Coptic cathedral on Friday.
Ms. Shehata appeared in the picture with Naguib Gebrael, of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organization. Mr. Gebrael, a lawyer, told Al Ahram that he would represent her in a court where a complaint was filed against her alleged forced confinement in a church.
Her appearance in the picture with her family is likely to weaken claims by Islamists that she was being locked in the monastery.
A police report suggested that Ms. Shehata had disappeared following a family dispute, without giving further details. According to some reports the dispute was over her desire to convert to Islam. Rumors of her forced conversion to Islam sparked Coptic protests in Cairo and in her home province of Minya demanding her return.
Police found Ms. Shehata on July 23 at the home of a friend in Cairo. Accounts differ on whether she was returned to her family or turned over to the custody of the Church.
She had made no public statement and her whereabouts remained unknown.
Islamists say Ms. Shehata has converted to Islam and was locked up by the church to prevent her from practicing her new religion. They also claim that there are other women who were born Coptic and are now locked up in the church after converting to Islam.
Islamist Salafists’ plan to protest in front of a Coptic cathedral on Friday has raised fears of reviving sectarian tension between Copts and Muslims, who united in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
“If the Salafists and the Copts clash this Friday, a civil war will break out in Egypt,” Emad Gad, Researcher at Ahram Strategic Center, told Ahram Online.
Christians make up about 10 percent of the country’s 82 million people. Freedom of religion remains a sensitive issue in Egypt.
(Mustapha Ajbaili of Al Arabiya can be reached at: Mustapha.email@example.com)