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Wednesday, 26 September 2018

The curious case of Nagham El-Helbawy's disappearance

The sister of a salafist activist returns home after four days somewhere; doubts remain about the accounts of both her family and the ministry of the interior

Zeinab El Gundy, Tuesday 3 Jan 2012
Nagham El Helbawy
Nagham El Helbawy (Photo:Internet)
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Nagham El-Helbawy, a 16-year-old girl who was reported missing from her house in Alexandria on 29 December in the middle of the day; an incident that was without doubt alarming for many families in Egypt, where many fear such crimes are becoming more common. Yet, there was something different in Nagham El-Helbawy’s case; her brother is a political activist.

Nagham El-Helbawy’s brother is Sheikh Mohamed El-Helbawy, a Salafist preacher and the head of potential presidential candidate Hazem Saleh Abu Ismail’s electronic campaign in Alexandria. Sheikh El-Helbawy, along with Salafist websites and Facebook pages, shared the details of her disappearance, hinting that this was a kidnapping to intimidate her brother for political reasons.

El-Helbawy pointed out that the family had not been contacted by the kidnappers and, nothing was stolen from the house, although a few pieces of furniture were smashed.

Hazem Salah Abu Ismail expressed his concern and anger. “It reminds us of the actions of state security during Mubarak’s era,” he said in a statement, warning of the consequences of such action if security apparatuses in Egypt were behind it.

The case quickly received attention from social media, including a dedicated Facebook page and a Twitter hashtag, “FreeNagham.”

Some Salafists criticised liberals for not bringing attention to the case of Nagham in the same way as the cases of activists detained by the military such as Alaa Abdel-Fattah and Maikel Nabil; yet liberal forces did raise the disappearance of the girl and her case was featured on television shows on ONTV channel and in Tahrir newspaper, in addition to the strong campaign on Salafist websites and television channels.

Over the weekend, a rumour took hold that Nagham was being detained at the state security headquarters in Alexandria, but the rumour was denied by members of her family, including her brother who praised the efforts of the security forces in trying to find her.

On Monday it was announced that Nagham had been returned safely to her family and that she would have an exclusive interview on El-Hekma religious television channel that night, to speak about her ordeal.

The young girl, who did not speak much during the interview, said that she was kidnapped by three men in the afternoon while her relatives were out of the house. She claimed that she had found strange men in the house searching her brother’s computer, and that she was hit on her head, knocking her out. When she woke up, she was in the Mokkatam area of Cairo, where a kind family hosted her and called her brother to return her home.

Nagham and her brother Mohamed El-Helbawy, as well their mother, thanked the police and ministry of interior for their efforts to find her.

Nagham El-Helbawy did not mention how she found herself in Cairo, nor who her kidnappers were and how she found the family from Cairo, leaving many viewers with unanswered questions.

On Tuesday, the ministry of interior’s official Facebook page issued a statement about the case, claiming that she was not kidnapped but rather ran away from home because of some family problems. The statement added that Nagham stayed with a family in Giza through a friend she knew from Facebook. The ministry of interior mentioned full names of all parties involved in the incident from the family that hosted her and her Facebook friend.

The statement of the ministry of interior, implying deception by the El-Helbawy family shocked many. Mohamed El-Helbawy fired back at the ministry slamming its statement and insisting it was untrue, warning the ministry of interior of the consequences of defaming his sister.

“Whoever defamed my sister’s honour will pay the price,” El-Helbawy warned the ministry of interior in a statement published in his Facebook page, which fuelled further debate about what really happened.  

Following the long record of the ministry of interior’s deception in incidents such as the deaths of Khaled Said and Sayed Belal, both tortured to death, many in Egypt do not believe the ministry of interior's statement, although doubts remain about her family’s account.  

Despite the safe return of Nagham to her family, it seems her story will not end here.

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