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Woman at centre of Imbaba violence appears on TV

'Abeer Talaat' gives interview claiming she was held captive by the church after converting to Islam but regrets the weekend's chaos

Lina El-Wardani , Tuesday 10 May 2011
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A woman claiming to be Abeer Talaat, the woman whose alleged conversion from Christianity to Islam sparked the violence that started Saturday in Imbaba, appeared on TV for the first time yesterday saying she regretted the events.

In a phone interview with Egypt's Al Tahrir channel, Abeer said she converted from Christianity to Islam last September and left her village in Assiut, Upper Egypt, filing for divorce from her husband before hiding in Cairo.
 
Abeer said she then met Yasin Thabet and agreed to marry him when her divorce came into effect. But weeks ago someone reported her to the church and she was taken captive. 
 
She claimed to have been held in different church-owned properties across Egypt before ending up in Imbaba. Priests and nuns tried to convince her to re-embrace Christianity and return to her husband, said Abeer, but she was not subjected to any violence.
 
On Saturday she said she heard the unrest in Imbaba but was locked in a neighbourhood house, accompanied by a nun from the church and unable to see outside. Abeer claims the nun suddenly unlocked the door and told her: "Go, we are innocent from your blood."
 
Abeer said she is now hiding in a safe place, that she didn't expect any of what happened and wants to live in peace like anyone else. She said she regrets the events, adding, "If I knew all of those innocent people would die and be injured I would have sacrificed myself."
 
In an interview published yesterday on the Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya website, Abeer gave further details of her life with her Christian husband. She said he used to beat and torture her, prompting her to run away and stay with her family. Although she said she wanted to report her husband to the police, her father refused to avoid scandal.
 
Abeer said she learned about Islam from her colleagues at caligraphy institute, visiting Al-Azhar with a co-worker where she converted to Islam and changed her name to Asmaa. 
 
She said she hid in a small village near the Delta governorate of Benha but someone reported her to her family, who jailed her in the Virgin Mary Monastery in Assiut in March. She claimed she was then moved between churches and monasteries in Assiut before reaching the main cathedral in Abbasiya, where clergy tried to persuade her to return to Christianity.
 
Abeer said she was afraid and told the Church she would re-embrace Christianity so they would leave her alone.
 
She ended her interview by asking the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Father of Imbaba church to leave her alone: "I want to live my life and raise my children.  Enough bloodshed - who cares if I am Muslim or Christian?"
 
Social networking tools Facebook and Twitter, almost humour-free for the last two days, didn't miss the chance to make fun of Abeer's dramatic reappearance.
 
A Twitter-user called Laila said: "Abeer is an example of national unity. She is married to a Christian and going out with a Muslim."  Another user, Ahmed, added: "Salafists are so cool, they don't mind sexual freedom. She is having a relationship with a Muslim." Meanwhile, Zeinab asked, "So the history books will have Camilia and Abeer as the representatives of the revolution now?" 
 
Someone called Samir tweeted, "This is shameful, every woman gets beaten by her husband runs away and converts. In the good old days she used to kill her husband and cut him in pieces and put him in plastic bags."
 
Other Facebook and Twitter users said they didn't believe her story. One user said she didn't sound Christian, others that if she was kidnapped she should have reported it to the police rather than appearing on TV. Others wondered what had happened to Mubarak's trial and downplayed the importance of the whole Abeer story.
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