Egypt deports Korean, Swedish women for allegedly working as missionaries

Egyptian authorities deported two female students _ one from Sweden and the other from South Korea _ on charges they tried to convert Muslims to Christianity, according to diplomats and a church official.

The women were detained by Egyptian police and sent home in late October after being suspected of proselytizing, a Korean diplomat said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

A South Korean Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity as because he was not authorized to talk to reporters, said the Korean woman was deported after allegedly performing "missionary work that is banned in Egypt."

Authorities in Egypt, a majority Muslim state where just 10 percent of its 72 million population are Christians, take a tough line on attempts to convert Muslims. There is no specific law on the Egyptian books to forbid proselytizing, but emergency laws in force since the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat allow authorities to detain and deport people suspected of being missionaries as a threat to national security.

The Egyptian Foreign and Interior ministries declined repeated attempts to obtain comment on the case, but one local official, who also declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, confirmed on Sunday that the women had been sent home. The official would not say why.

Ko Sangwon, president of the Korean Community Association in Cairo, said diplomats informed him that the Korean woman _ believed to be a Protestant activist who had studied Arabic in Egypt for at least the past year _ had been held by Egyptian officials for three days before she was deported.

A local church official, who also declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the case, said the Korean and Swedish women shared an apartment. The official said the trouble began when the Swede borrowed the Korean's bible and took it to a meeting with an Egyptian Muslim in Cairo.

The Swede, according to the church official, was accused of trying to convert the Muslim Egyptian to Christianity and was immediately deported last month.

Police then traced the bible to its Korean owner and detained her. The Korean Embassy eventually learned of the case, and diplomatic contacts lead to her release and deportation, said the church official, who denied the woman had been performing missionary work.

Swedish Embassy spokeswoman Asa Pursad confirmed that the Swede had "returned to Sweden safely and the embassy helped her return." But the diplomat declined to identify the woman or comment on the matter further.

While Coptic Christians and Muslims generally live in harmony in Egypt, sectarian tensions exist. Last month Muslim rioters attacked Christian neighborhoods in Egypt's second-largest city of Alexandria. Four people were killed and about 100 injured, AP reported. V.A.

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