Egypt: The forbidden love of interfaith romances

An Egyptian couple hold handsIt is difficult for Egyptian interfaith couples to marry, and doing so can have dire consequences

“We had a five-year romance, but I never even touched her hand,” says Tareq, as he remembers his relationship with fellow university student Howaida.

Asking her hand in marriage posed an even bigger challenge.

“I was very hesitant because all my dreams could have been shattered once I admitted my feeling,” he says. “She was very likely to refuse a relationship with me because it would be against traditions.”

Tareq is an Egyptian Muslim, while Howaida was a Coptic Christian.

Interfaith marriages are increasingly unacceptable in Egypt; couples must be ready to pay a hefty price.

Despite this, Howaida accepted Tareq’s proposal.

“That was against all my expectations,” he says. “She pledged to overcome all hurdles so we could marry. It was the happiest moment of my entire life.”

But the hurdles they would encounter soon would prove too big for their relationship to continue.

Violent response

Religion is an incredibly sensitive issue in Egypt, with many Christians and Muslims refusing to accept people leaving their congregation.

George Matta, a Christian pastor in EgyptGeorge Matta, a Christian pastor, says people are safer choosing someone from their own religion

Religious leaders often see inter-faith marriage an attempt to recruit members from the other religion.

Fr George Matta, pastor of St George Church at Ezbet Hanna Ayoub in Menya, Upper Egypt, suggests that the culture in the Egyptian countryside does not accept interfaith relationships.

“My advice to young people is that they should choose their life partner from their own religion,” says Fr Matta.

“This is just a piece of advice. We still have a very long way to go before we have open-minded communities like the West,” he says, adding that he believed attitudes should change.

An Egyptian coupleUnder Egyptian law, Christian men must convert to Islam to marry a Muslim woman

Last year, a Muslim man was killed and five others were injured in clashes that took place in a remote village in Menya province. During the same incident, five Christian houses were set on fire.

The fighting erupted because of a relationship between a Muslim girl and a Christian neighbour.

Ahmed Attallah, an Egyptian writer who studies sectarian clashes, says the same story happens frequently. “Love is behind most of the sectarian clashes but it is hardly mentioned in official papers,” he says.

“The authorities may blame evangelisation, apostasy or even abduction. But they never admit that there are simply love stories behind clashes.”

Restrictive law

Aya and Milad’s relationship started in Tahrir Square in the middle of the 2011 Egyptian revolution.

But after more than three years together, they feel frustrated. They can’t marry in Egypt because Milad is a Christian, while Aya is a Muslim woman.

The authorities will never approve our marriage or register our children as Egyptians”

Aya, Muslim in interfaith relationship

Under Egyptian law, Milad would have to convert Islam, even though a Christian woman can marry a Muslim man without having to convert.

The couple considered travelling abroad to marry and start a family. But even that would not solve their problem.

“Even though we would sign a civil marriage document, we would not be able to come back to Egypt,” says 24-year-old Aya.

“The authorities will never approve our marriage or register our children as Egyptians. We must then live outside Egypt until we die.”

Ahmed Attallah says that interfaith marriage has effectively become prohibited in Egypt.

“When a Christian woman goes to a notary to register a marriage with a Muslim man, the officials tell her that she must have a letter of approval from the Church,” he says.

“The Egyptian Church has consistently refused to approve marriages between different Christian sects, let alone different religions.” he adds.

Heavy price

Abeer, who used to be a Christian, has been married to Mohammed, a Muslim, for 24 years.

They live in Menya, the same province that saw the bloody sectarian clashes more than year ago, and they say the public response to relationships such as theirs has become much more violent.

“When we got married, people actually tended to congratulate us everywhere we went in the village” Mohamed says.

However, the couple – like many others in their situation – still had to pay a heavy price for their relationship.

An Egyptian couple walk down the streetPeople in interfaith relationships can often be cast out by their families in Egypt

Abeer’s family disowned her for marrying a Muslim and converting to Islam. When she ran into her father after the wedding, she remembers that he ignored her and said: “My Abeer is dead”.

Tareq, who fell in love with Howaida at university, could not bear to make her suffer in the same way, even though she was prepared to convert to Islam.

They split up in 2009.

Tareq says he feared his relationship with Howaida would put her in danger from her own family.

“I did not want to get her into trouble which could end with her family killing her,” Tareq says.

He adds: “I’m now married a wonderful, decorous veiled woman and have lovely children, may God save them and her.”

“But for me, I can’t say that I ‘love’ my wife.”

“I still love the Christian woman I used to meet. I will never forget her.”

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DR Congo violence: Axe attackers kill dozens near Beni

Hundreds of people have been killed near Beni since early OctoberHundreds of people have been killed near Beni since early October

At least 50 people have been massacred by machete and axe-wielding attackers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, according to activists.

Witnesses said the killings were carried out by men in uniforms posing as soldiers.

The massacre happened near the Ugandan border around 6 miles (10km) from the town of Beni, where army and UN troops are stationed.

Government officials blamed a Ugandan Islamist rebel group, the ADF.

More than 200 people have been killed near Beni since early October by the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces), officials say.

It is not yet known exactly how many people died in the latest onslaught, reports the BBC’s Maud Jullien in Kinshasa.

Nor is it clear, despite government accusations, which group is responsible for the deaths.

One woman who managed to flee said she counted at least 50 bodies, our correspondent adds.

Amisi Kalonda, the regional administrator, told the BBC that nine bodies had been retrieved so far.

He said the dead were spread out across the forest and that searches were still ongoing.

UN officials, who have been repeatedly criticised for failing to stem the violence, say they have increased their military presence in the area since October.

The spree of massacres near Beni started two months ago – but it is still extremely difficult to get a clear picture of exactly what is going on.

No one knows why nearly 200 innocent civilians have been killed, or who exactly is behind the murders.

When I was in Beni recently, people were scared and angry. Those who live on the outskirts of the town barricade themselves in their homes at night, or leave in the late afternoon to spend the night closer to the town’s centre.

They live in fear, and they are also angry: all sorts of rumours are being spread about who could be behind the killings – many people believe the UN is involved.

The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that peacekeeping troops who patrol the area have gotten used to being greeted with stones.

But a senior UN source told the BBC that the organisation did not have the capacity to protect all the civilians in the area.

Over the past two decades, numerous armed groups have caused havoc in DR Congo’s mineral-rich eastern regions.

The ADF was formed in 1996 by a puritanical Muslim sect in the Ruwenzori mountains of western Uganda.

There are now reports that the group is forming alliances with other rebels in eastern DR Congo.

Peace agreements last year have failed to end violence in the east.

Zambia’s President Scott suspended by Patriotic Front

Guy Scott pictured in August 2014Acting President Guy Scott is often disparagingly referred to as the “ceremonial vice-president”

Zambia’s ruling Patriotic Front (PF) has suspended President Guy Scott as party leader amid a power struggle ahead of elections in January.

The party’s central committee accused him of “unconstitutional conduct”.

But state radio later quoted the PF secretary-general as saying the decision was invalid, as only Mr Scott could call a meeting of the committee.

Mr Scott, who took over after President Michael Sata died last month, remains interim president until the poll.

He cannot become substantive president because his parents were born abroad.

PF spokesman Malozo Sichone told the BBC that Mr Scott’s suspension comes after party officials had spent weeks trying to meet the president to discuss the election and selection process.

“Since the president’s death, it has become clear that Dr Scott has been following his own agenda,” said Mr Sichone.

“He has been hiring and firing people for no apparent reason and without consulting the [party’s] central committee,” he said.

Protests

Patriotic Front (PF) supporters burn wood in Lusaka's Belvedere area late on 3 November 2014, as they riot in protest against the dismissal of the PF secretary general by acting President Guy ScottA small crowd protested over Edgar Lungu’s sacking as PF secretary-general

The party is divided over how its presidential candidate at the next election should be selected, with some calling for the 53-member central committee to choose.

Mr Scott and other MPs want a vote by a general conference, made up of thousands of delegates.

Mr Scott lost favour with many members of the party after he sacked presidential hopeful, Edgar Lungu from his post as PF secretary-general without any explanation.

Mr Lungu was re-hired a day later following protests from his supporters in the capital, Lusaka.

He has said he is on a leave of absence from the position while the party decides who will contest the election. Meanwhile, Bridget Atanga has been appointed PF secretary-general.

Correspondents say the reinstatement has done little to win back protesters’ trust, as some within the party suspect Mr Scott may have his own candidate in mind for the presidential nomination.

Mr Lungu had been named acting president when Mr Sata sought medical treatment in London and is seen as a frontrunner in the elections.

Mr Sata’s son, Mulenga Sata, who is the mayor of Lusaka, and his widow, Christine Kaseba, have also said they will seek the PF’s nomination, reports Reuters news agency.

Mr Scott, whose parents were British, is the first white head of state in mainland Africa for 20 years.

French President Francois Hollande to visit Ebola-stricken Guinea

Health workers from Guinea's Red Cross disinfect an Ebola victim in Guinea on 19 November 2014

France’s President Francois Hollande has said he will travel to the West African country of Guinea, one of the worst affected by the Ebola epidemic.

His visit next Friday will be the first made to the country by a non-African leader since the outbreak began.

Mr Hollande will meet with Guinean President Alpha Conde and visit a field hospital set up by French doctors.

Meanwhile Liberian police said all public beaches would be closed from 29 November because of the virus’s spread.

Public rallies and demonstrations were also banned, though an exception was made for those related to the ongoing mid-term senate election campaign.

It is hoped that these measures will reduce the transmission of the virus.

‘Taking action’

Mr Hollande will travel to Guinea ahead of a summit of French-speaking nations in Senegal.

He told reporters: “France is taking action in matters that concern it and other countries in Guinea and has set up a hospital in [the country’s south-east].”

France has also sent a medical team to Mali, which has recently reported a number of Ebola cases.

Of the six people infected, all have died.

Guinea, unlike Mali, is no stranger to the virus. The current epidemic, which has killed 1,214 Guineans, originated there.

There have been 15,351 cases of Ebola and 5,459 deaths since the current outbreak began, according to the latest figures by the World Health Organization.

Regin, new computer spyware, discovered by Symantec

A leading computer security company says it has discovered one of the most sophisticated pieces of malicious software ever seen.

Symantec says the bug, named Regin, was probably created by a government and has been used for six years against a range of targets around the world.

Once installed on a computer, it can do things like capture screenshots, steal passwords or recover deleted files.

Experts say computers in Russia, Saudi Arabia and Ireland have been hit most.

It has been used to spy on government organisations, businesses and private individuals, they say.

Researchers say the sophistication of the software indicates that it is a cyber-espionage tool developed by a nation state.

They also said it likely took months, if not years, to develop and its creators have gone to great lengths to cover its tracks.

Sian John, a security strategist at Symantec, said: “It looks like it comes from a Western organisation. It’s the level of skill and expertise, the length of time over which it was developed.”

Symantec has drawn parallels with Stuxnet, a computer worm thought to have been developed by the US and Israel to target Iran’s nuclear program.

That was designed to damage equipment, whereas Regin’s purpose appears to be to collect information.

Angelina Jolie: “I’ve Never Been Comfortable As An Actor”

Angelina Jolie speaks on quiting acting as a career.

In an interview with Du Jour Magazine, the ‘Mr and Mrs’ actress, Angelina Jolie, speaks on her plans to quit acting as a career, her experience as a director, and her new movies.

According to the actress, she plans to quit acting entirely for directing as she has never been comfortable in front of the camera.

“I’ve never been comfortable as an actor; I’ve never loved being in front of the camera. I didn’t ever think I could direct, but I hope I’m able to have a career at it because I’m much happier.

According to Du Jour Magazine, when asked if she plans to give up acting entirely, Jolie “Absolutely.”

Angelina Jolie is currently busy with her new movie ‘By the Sea’ in which she stars alongside her husband Brad. ‘By the Sea’ is written by Angelina, it also has her as the director and producer.

Speaking on ‘By the Sea’, Angelina admits that it is tricky directing herself and Brad.

“The tricky thing is directing myself and directing Brad,” she admits. “It’s hard, dramatic material, and we’re balancing.”

“It’s a heavy film, and it’s not easy for us,” she adds. “But even as you struggle through it, you’re in the trenches together and you don’t expect it to be easy. We’re challenging each other and that’s a really good thing.”

Angelina Jolie’s movie ‘Unbroken ‘ which is the life story of Olympic runner-turned U.S airman, Louie Zamperini, is set to hit theaters on Dec. 25.

‘Ambulance drone’ takes to the skies

A Belgian student is seeking sponsors to get his prototype “ambulance drone” off the ground.

The airborne medical kit can be flown to the scene of an emergency without the risk of traffic delays.

It travels at speeds of up to 100km/h (60mph).

Alec Momont says the precious minutes it saves could mean the difference between life or death.

He came up with the design while studying at Delft University of Technology.

The 23-year-old has been showing Anna Holligan the “ambulance drone” in action.