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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Egypt's Rubbish People


Unreported World exposes a dark side to Egypt that the authorities don't want foreigners to see: a secretive society of around 40,000 people literally living in rubbish in a Cairo ghetto overrun by rats and disease.

Reporter Evan Williams and producer James Brabazon are some of the first journalists to film inside the ghetto where tens of thousands live with garbage stacked to the roofs of their multi-storey homes - eking out a living recycling the rubbish by hand. It's a sight rarely seen by outsiders, and almost definitely not by the million British Tourists who visit Egypt every year.

This group is unique for another reason. They're part of Muslim Egypt's Christian minority; a community claiming to be besieged by persecution, extremism and a creeping Islamisation in Egypt's security services.

The Unreported World team highlights one the most sensitive issues faced by some of those in Egypt - their decision to convert to Christianity - a decision that some Muslims believe should be punishable by death under a strict interpretation of sharia religious law.

One convert, "Christine", tearfully claims that officers from the government's State Security Intelligence have threatened to torture those trying to convert, rape their daughters in front of them and jail them on false charges of prostitution.

"We are abused in the street, spat at, cigarettes are thrown at us, my young daughter who is eleven is hit by the teacher and told to wear the veil and taken to the Mosque to pray even though she doesn't know anything about the Islamic faith," she tells Williams.

Another Christian family tells the team that their 17-year-old daughter has been missing for five months. They believe she has been kidnapped and forced to marry a Muslim, yet claim that the police refuse to search for her because she is a Christian. The girl's father, Atef, claims that the police arrested him for two days and held him on a roof for six hours, handcuffed, in an effort to get him to stop looking for his daughter.

The team arranges a meeting with Gasser Abdul-Razak, of the Human Rights Watch group. He claims that for the last three or four years government officials have been illegally refusing to allow thousands of converts to register their new religion on their ID cards, a document vital for everyday life in Egypt.

Back at the Christian garbage collector's ghetto, Father Samaan, the chief Christian priest, tells Unreported World that Egyptian laws make it difficult to build new churches. Instead he had to excavate his church from the sheer rock of a mountain.

"If you can build a Mosque - which you can in Egypt - you should be able to build a church and you can't get that permission," he says. "That's not right. You should not be treated as Muslims Christians you should just be treated as citizens of Egypt."

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