(AINA) -- A Coptic Christian woman in Egypt named Camelia Shehata has unwittingly become the focal point in the clash of Islam with Christianity. The Al-Qaeda group operating in Iraq, which calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), stormed Our Lady of Deliverance Assyrian Catholic church in Baghdad on Sunday, October 31, and killed 58 Christians before being killed and blowing themselves up. In the phone call they made to Iraqi authorities ISI members demanded the release of Camelia Shehata, among others, whom they believe has converted to Islam but is being held against her will in a monastery by the Coptic church of Egypt.
Camelia Shehata, wife of Father Tedaos Samaan, a priest in Deir Mawas, Egypt, disappeared on July 19, resulting in Coptic demonstrations against State Security for refusing to help her husband find her. According to the official version by State Security, Camelia had a row with her husband and left home, staying with one of her relatives in Cairo; security found her five days later and handed her back to her family. Not wishing to go back to her husband, she stayed with her 18-month-old son in a house for women belonging to the church.
A few days later a rumor spread by a fundamentalist shaikh claimed that Camelia had converted to Islam and as they were on their way to Al-Azhar to authenticate her conversion, Camelia was taken by State Security (AINA 9-18-2010). Muslim TV satellite channels were calling for her return to Islam and demonstrations went out in front of mosques calling for her freedom from her "captivity" and accusing the Coptic church and Pope Shenouda for holding her hostage. She appeared on a video confirming that she was a Christian and never thought of converting to Islam. Al-Azhar also denied she ever came there but the demonstrations continued (AINA 10-10-2010).
Hamdi Zakzouk, Minister of Endowment, during a lecture at Cairo University on November 2, asserted that Camelia never converted to Islam or went to Al-Azhar. He also heavily criticized the weekly Friday fundamentalist demonstrations which called for the return of "our Muslim sister."
But that did not stop the Muslim fundamentalists, and the rumor of her conversion metastasized. Fourteen demonstration have been held by Muslim radicals in Egypt, each always beginning on a Friday afternoon, after the end of prayers at the Mosque.
For ISI, Camelia was worth killing for. For ISI, it does not matter that she is Egyptian and they, the ISI, are in Iraq (and that they are not even Iraqis). The ISI sees Muslims as one transnational nation. It is the nation -- umma -- of Islam. In its fight against the non-Muslim world, Al-Qaeda knows no boundaries or nations. The Assyrians of Iraq, as well as all non-Muslims, are fair and legitimate targets.
According to several Coptic sources, Egyptian State Security has ordered that no one should see Camelia, and it was State Security who arranged for a video of her to be taken and distributed two months ago. When Muslims said it was not her on the video, state security issued a statement and ordered national TV stations to air it to confirm it was Camelia.
The Egyptian Minister of Endowment, who controls mosques and imams, has criticized the demonstrations to "free" Camelia and said they were the cause behind the Iraqi church massacre and Al Qaida threats.
Coptic Pope Shenouda described the Baghdad church massacre as "something that logic and conscience cannot accept."
Coptic organizations have accused the demonstrators of being Al-Qaeda members. Fearing that they will be rounded up by state security, the Muslim radicals have announced an end to these demonstrations. The last demonstration occurred on Friday, November 5, and had a fraction of the previous attendance. Egytpian State Security was heavily present. The demonstrators called for the release of Camelia and threatened and insulted the Coptic Pope (video).
According to Magdi Khalil, a Coptic activist, "the similarity between the statement issued by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and those issued by the fundamentalist organizations in Egypt on the subject of Camelia Shehata, as well as the threats shouted during the weekly demonstrations in the mosques of Cairo and Alexandria, suggests that there us a highly coordinated campaign to empty the Middle East of its Christians."
Meanwhile, the Coptic Church is under pressure from its own members to release Camelia from the monastery where she is residing, to place her on national television to definitively lay to rest all rumors and speculations regarding her case, so that Islamists cannot exploit her alleged conversion and captivity to incite violence against Christians, be they in Iraq or in Egypt. A leading Egyptian journalist has offered to arrange with state security for her security and transportation to the television studio.
Mary Abdelmassih contributed to this report.