(AINA) -- After the return of the missing priest's wife to her family by State Security on July 23, Egyptian radicals sheikhs have spread rumors that she converted to Islam, exploiting the issue for an outright smear campaign against the Coptic Church and its Pope Shenouda III. The sheikhs paint an image of "Their suffering Muslim sister in a monastery where she is tortured for having chosen to convert to Islam."
Camelia Shehata, wife of Father Tedaos Samaan, priest at St. Georges Church in Deir Mawas, Minya Governorate, disappeared on July 19, resulting in Coptic demonstrations against State Security for refusing to help her husband find her (AINA 7-23-2010). Father Tedaos accused a Muslim teacher working with her in the same school of being behind her abduction in order to force her conversion to Islam. After 5 days of Coptic sit-ins and the intervention of members of parliament, State Security found her and handed her back to her family.
According to the official version by State Security, Camilia had a row with her husband and left home, staying with one of her relatives in Cairo. The Church kept silent as usual, as per a tacit agreement with Security not to discuss abduction cases.
What re-ignited the "Camilia Affair" a few days later was a video on the Islamist website "Observatory of the Islamic Resistance to Christianizing" which gave a different story. Influential Salafi sheikh Abu Yehya, from Samalut, who is known for his paid activities in procuring Christians for conversion to Islam, said that Camilia fled her marital home and went to him to convert to Islam. He claimed that Camilia had proclaimed the shahada, or declaration of Muslim faith, 18 months earlier and has secretly studied the Koran. Allegedly he traveled with her to Cairo and went to Al-Azhar to register her conversion officially, however, they were delayed there until the police arrived and arrested them both.
The website showed Camilia clad in a veil but this was disputed by various Coptic organizations, who claim the photo was reworked in Photoshop, in a similar fashion to photos of Marilyn Monroe and Angelina Jolie, who are portrayed wearing veils, though they have never worn them.
This story was taken up by other Salafi radical sheikhs who appeared on Islamic TV channels, after adding to it that the church was imprisoning Camilia in one of the Coptic monasteries in Ain Shams (there are none there), where she was given mind altering drugs "until she became insane" according to Sheikh el-Howeiny.
The media joined in the smear campaign against the Church, accompanied by Muslim demonstrations outside mosques during Ramadan in Cairo and Alexandria against the Coptic Patriarch and Church and the infidel Christians, demanding that Camilia, as a Muslim, should be "freed from her captivity in the Coptic monasteries, to practice Islam" and calls for her appearance in public.
Previously Pope Shenouda had confirmed that Camilia never converted to Islam, and no one had the right to know where she is.
There were also calls for Muslim siege of the Coptic Patriarchate in Cairo to force her freedom. Islamist lawyers started filing cases against the church to subject the monasteries to inspection either because they keep ammunition there, or for keeping Christian women who have converted to Islam. Khalil said that Muslims are known "to fabricate a mountain of lies and end up believing them."
To the surprise of many, Camilia appeared on September 8, in an 11-minute video published on the website of the Egyptian daily El-Youm7, which had one of its reporters present during the shooting of the video, and who confirmed the authenticity of the video.
Camilia said that "she is a Christian with all her heart", denying rumors about her conversion to Islam, adding "I'm talking to you in full freedom and without any pressure or intimidation. I am appearing in order to defend my husband, my child, my church and my religion which is Christianity." She denied having been subjected to torture, brainwashing or being detained in a monastery or church. "This is illogical because the Church teaches us to love, but I assure you that I am in a safe and pleasant place."
Camilia stressed the Church does not force anyone to stay in or enter into Christianity; it gives no electric shocks, drugs for hallucination or engages in brainwashing, as was rumored. She refused to talk about her personal life, stressing that what happened between her and her husband is personal and no one has the right to interfere in it, also only her husband has the right to look for her, and no one else is entitled to do so or demand her return.
This did not put an end to the sheikhs demands of seeing her in person, "because the woman who appeared on the video is not Camelia but a "double" of her, according to Zoghby, another Sheikh. A website dedicated to her said the woman who appeared in the video had a different front tooth and her eyebrows were thicker.
On September 9, for the first time on official Egyptian TV stations, State Security sources confirmed that Camilia Shehata was the one who appeared on the video.
Sheikh Saeed Amer, Chairman of the Committee of Declaration of Islam at Al-Azhar, stepped-in and denied that Camilia ever came there or that her case came before him.
After this information became known, Muslim lawyer Nizar Gorab filed a complaint to the Prosecutor General against Abu Yehya for inciting sectarian strife by fabricating false stories, reported AlArabiya.net on September 11. Ghorab had previously championed Camilia's case by approaching the UN Human Right Council, the EU and Human Rights Watch, asking for her release as she was held against her will and deprived of becoming a Muslim by the authorities, which is against her rights to religious freedom.
Observers believe this crisis is spiraling out of control despite efforts to contain it.
Coptic activist Magdi Khalil believes that "Egypt is on the verge of chaos and change of regime and there is a plan for Copts to pay the price of this predicted chaos, by directing the surplus violence, hate and barbarism towards them."
Nearly 500 Muslims demonstrated in front of Amr Ibn-el-Ass Mosque in old Cairo on their Eid-Feast on September 10 calling on President Mubarak to "free Camilia." They chanted "If Camilia is still OK, then why have you used a double for her?" They distributed computer CDs with her story.
On September 13, an association called the "Front of Al-Azhar Scholars," which has been banned in Egypt and operates from Kuwait, issued a statement on its website calling for the boycott of Coptic businesses, professionals and schools "After the church became a source of Egyptian intimidation and terrorism to the State and the Nation."
Magdy Khalil said that the main players in the forthcoming chaos in Egypt is an interaction between political and Salafi Islam, a large portion of State Security who are radicalized and who want to direct violence towards the Copts and not the Regime. "Saudi Arabia is the main funder of what is happening to the Copts in Egypt," he said.
He believes that those players who fabricated the Camilia story will surely fabricate new ones, aiming at agitating and "heating up" the Muslim street and creating mounting chaos. "When the real chaos takes place, they will go into the field to destroy, loot and kill the Copts."