Female Christians in Cairo, Egypt Fearful of Riding Subway

After assaults by covered women, is it better to risk harassment on mixed-gender cars?

CAIRO, Egypt  (Morning Star News) – Coptic girls and women are wary about boarding Cairo subway cars – or are too fearful to enter them at all – after a series of attacks on female Christians on the transit system.


In three separate incidents in the past month, women wearing the niqab – a full covering for the face and body worn by conservative Muslim women – harassed, assaulted and cut off hair of three Coptic Christians.


Two of the victims were Christian girls, 13 and 16 years old. In the third attack, a 30-year-old Christian mother was pushed off a train and fell onto a platform, breaking her arm.


The wearing of the niqab, a common outfit in Egypt, made identifying and catching the assailants almost impossible. It also left many Christian women here viewing all covered women on the subway with apprehension.


In Cairo subways, a certain number of cars on each train are set-aside for women, and most women wearing the niqab avoid mixed-gender subway cars. But a Christian student at Cairo University said she no longer boards the women-only cars for fear of being attacked.


“I now get in the men’s train car to go to university, so I won’t be near any covered Muslim women,” said the 18-year-old medical student, who requested anonymity out of fear of attack.


Shunning the women-only cars, though, subjects Christian women to the possibility of being sexually harassed, a common and well-publicized problem in Cairo. The medical student said that her fellow female Christian students are too frightened to ride the subway and don’t like taking the bus, another place where women are frequently sexually harassed.


“So basically, now Christian women are scared of going anywhere,” she said. “Any move they make, somebody is going to be standing there waiting to hurt them in one way or another.”


The first subway attack happened on Oct. 30 to a 16-year-old student of Sarya Al-Quba High School on the El-Marg line that runs north and south through Central Cairo, according to media reports. Little was publicly released about the attack other than that two women wearing the niqab used scissors to cut hair off the Christian girl. The girl, whose name was not released, was on her way to school when it happened.


In Egypt most women or girls riding the subway without their hair covered would be assumed to be Christian or otherwise non-Muslim; local media identified the three attacked females as Christians, and the targeting of the hair as a religious symbol suggests religious motives. The second attack happened on the morning of Nov. 5 to Magy Melad Fayez, 13, a second-year student at a Cairo preparatory school. It took place on the same line where the first attack happened, somewhere between the Izbit Al-Nakhl and Hilmiyyat Al-Zeitun stations, where the girl’s school is located, she told local media.


She was on a crowded car when a covered woman told her to stop pushing so close to a group of children, according to Magy’s published account. Magy responded that she couldn’t help it because the train car was so crowded. The incensed woman started yelling at her. Magy turned away to leave the train, but as she stepped out of the car she felt her long hair dangling off her collar. It was unclear who cut off her hair, but she said she suspected the woman.


Magy told Egyptian media she was more upset by the hostile nature of the incident than about the loss of her hair.


The third subway attack happened on the morning of Nov. 10 at the Kobri El-Qobba station, also on the El-Marg line. Nareman Smoul was going to pick up her daughter from an evangelical school when two covered women attacked her. Naguib Gobrail, head of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights, said the two women started pushing Smoul from her place on the subway car and called her an “infidel” who did not know the difference between “right and wrong.”


“Then they pushed her to the ground, and one of them got a pair of scissors out of her handbag and cut her hair off,” Gobrail said.


Smoul walked to a different part of the car, he said.


“But when the doors opened at the station, they kicked her out [onto the platform] and broke her arm,” Gobrail said.


Smoul was taken to hospital, and authorities sent police officers to investigate. None of the attackers has been arrested or even identified.


The victims have stopped speaking to the media. The mother of the 13-year-old girl, however, told Morning Star News that her daughter was terrified.


“She’s too afraid to leave our home,” the mother said.


One Christian, widely known as a worker at one of the largest Protestant churches in Cairo, said she is very cautious now when using the subway.


“Now I watch where I am, and am standing, and who is standing next to me or behind me, in case a veiled woman is behind me who might have scissors and will cut my hair off,” she said.


The 26-year-old woman, who also requested anonymity for fear of being attacked, said the attacks were “horrible and inhuman.”


“They are a clear sign of Islamists trying to force Christian women to dress like Muslim women,” she said. “Which later will be followed by forcing them to convert to Islam.”




© 2012 Morning Star News. Articles may be reprinted with credit to Morning Star News.   


Morning Star News is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation whose mission is to inform those in the free world and in countries violating religious freedom about Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their faith. For free subscription or to make tax-deductible donations, contact [email protected], or send check to Morning Star News, 24310 Moulton Parkway, Suite O # 157, Laguna Hills, CA 92637, USA.



Speak Your Mind