Egypt convicts Durham couple for illegal adoption
Posted September 17, 2009 7:49 a.m. EDT
Updated September 17, 2009 6:05 p.m. EDT
CAIRO — An Egyptian judge on Thursday convicted two American couples – including one from Durham – for human trafficking in an illegal adoptions case that highlighted bureaucratic entanglements and murky adoption law in this predominantly Muslim country.
The four U.S. residents – Iris Botros and Louis Andros, both of Durham, and Egyptian-born Suzan Hagoulf and her husband Medhat Metyas – first appeared in high spirits in the Cairo courtroom.
Reunited in the defendants' cage, Andros, who is in his 70s, hugged and kissed Botros, 40, from whom he had been separated. Hagoulf, who has been living in Egypt since 2003, carried a photograph of a baby boy she had adopted from an orphanage.
The couples, though, were swiftly convicted and sentenced: two years in prison and fines of 100,000 Egyptian pounds, or $18,153, each. The defendants were then taken away and prevented from speaking to the media.
Relatives in the United States expressed shock at the conviction.
"I was expecting them to be released today. I really wanted them home," said Iris Botros' brother, Shawn. "Iris wouldn't do something illegal. Neither would Louis."
The couples were arrested in December after staff members of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo told authorities they were suspicious of the couples' efforts to take their adopted children out of Egypt. The four went on trial in May on charges of child trafficking and forgery.
Relatives said that Botros and Andros had struggled with infertility for years and then decided to go through a church to adopt a 3-month-old boy and girl from Botros' native Egypt. Authorities claimed a Cairo orphanage gave them forged documents stating the adoptive children had been born to them.
Also charged in the case were seven Egyptians, including a nun, orphanage employees and a doctor accused of providing fake birth certificates. Each was sentenced to prison time and ordered to pay a fine equal to that given the Americans.
Shawn Botros said he believes that religion played in a role in his sister and brother-in-law's convictions.
"If they were not Christians, the case would not even exist," he said.
Islamic law in Egypt bans Muslims from adopting children. Muslims can take a child into long-term foster care, but the child can't inherit from the foster parents. However, adoptions by minority Egyptian Christians, including those living abroad, do take place and usually involve Christian orphanages. Proponents, though, say that although this type of adoption is not explicitly banned, it faces huge barriers.
Iris Botros is a green-card resident of the U.S., and Andros is a naturalized U.S. citizen who immigrated from Greece when he was 15.
There has also been speculation the Americans were caught up in an Egyptian crackdown on human trafficking.
Relatives of the Egyptians convicted in the case echoed the Americans’ claims of injustice.
As the verdicts were pronounced, a sister of one of the Egyptian defendants cried "Haram" – Arabic for unfair or wrong.
"They are hiding facts. It is corrupt; the whole court is corrupt," said Afaf Khalil, the sister of orphanage employee Gamil who was sentenced to five years in prison. Their brother, Atif, accused the government of "religious persecution," saying it was impossible to "fairly try a Christian using an Islamic law."
Two U.S. Embassy officials attended the trial but declined to comment on the case, citing privacy concerns.
Shawn Botros said the case has already exerted a heavy cost on his relatives – it forced them to close the family-owned Zorba's Greek restaurant, where Andros was head chef, in April.
"You'd go in the back of the restaurant, the back door, (and) you'd eat for free if you couldn't afford it," Shawn Botros said. "People loved him. Customers loved him. He was very loved."
"I'm so sad. I'm so sad. I feel it's an injustice," he added.