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Why Egypt's Christian Families Are Paying Ransoms
Image: Thomas Hartwell / AP

In 2011, Nadia Makram, 13, was walking home from church near her working-class Cairo neighborhood when she vanished.

Her mother, Martha, went to the police, who refused to file a report. Soon after, Martha received a call demanding $15,000. She went back to the police, who registered a complaint but noted only Nadia's disappearance.

When the police did nothing, Martha gathered money from family and friends and traveled to a village 65 miles south.

Martha met Nadia's 48-year-old kidnapper in the home of the local mayor. After she handed over the money, the men showed her what they called a "marriage certificate." Nadia, they said, had converted to Islam and married her abductor. Martha left empty-handed—an increasingly common story among Coptic Christians. Abductions have increased sharply in the past few months.

Nadia's case is being followed by the Association for Victims of Abductions and Enforced Disappearances (AVAED), which has documented 500 similar cases since the 2011 revolution. Hers appears to be a straight kidnapping, but AVAED says these are only a small proportion of disappearances. Sixty percent of them begin with a love relationship built on false pretenses.

"The girls are told, 'What will your family do to you if you go back to them? Convert to Islam so we can be together,' " said Ebram Louis, founder of AVAED. Kept against their will, Louis says, some of the girls are later found in brothels.

But some kidnappings turn out to be runaway stories instead. If a young Copt has found a Muslim lover, her shamed family may invent a tale of kidnapping by Muslim extremists.

Still, no matter the reason for the disappearance of a minor, says Cairo pastor ...

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Why Egypt's Christian Families Are Paying Ransoms
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January/February 2014

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