5 - 11 September 2002
Issue No. 602
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Recommend this page|
Children in the middleAfter months of taking refuge in her embassy, a Swiss mother is standing her ground in preventing her Egyptian ex-husband from seeing their children. Mona El-Nahhas reports
Last Sunday, Mohamed Fawzi Malash went to the Swiss Embassy in Cairo, hoping to give his daughter Anwaar a present and wish her a happy 11th birthday. But his hopes were dashed when officials at the embassy prevented him from seeing Anwaar, claiming that she did not want to see him. They also refused to deliver the present themselves and allow Malash to watch from a distance. Malash's three children and their Swiss mother, Elizabeth Hodlz, have been holed up in the Swiss Embassy for the past three months refusing to meet Malash. Hodlz, who is divorced from Malash, is demanding to take her children back to Switzerland with her, but is unable to do so because Malash has placed a travel ban on the children.
Malash reported Sunday's events to Foreign Ministry officials handling the issue, who expressed disappointment with Hodlz's latest actions, and noted that the matter could negatively impact on Egyptian-Swiss relations. Ambassador Ismail Ghoneim, who has been closely involved in the negotiations from the beginning, told Al-Ahram Weekly that embassy officials were not being helpful. "They should have exerted a greater effort if they really wanted to reach a settlement on the issue," said Ghoneim, adding that the Foreign Ministry would continue to pursue mediation efforts.
Malash's story began on 17 May, when Hodlz fled from his mother's house with 15- year-old Khaled, 13-year-old Tareq and Anwaar, taking refuge in the Swiss Embassy. Hodlz insisted that she will not leave the embassy until she is allowed to leave Egypt with the children. Since then, Hodlz has refused to see or meet anybody except embassy officials, declined to speak to the press or attend any of the Foreign Ministry's mediation meetings and barred her children from taking their school exams at the embassy, in what appears to be an attempt to sever the children ties to the country.
The Swiss Embassy repeatedly turned down Malash's requests that were supported by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, to meet with his children, with Swiss officials saying that the children did not want to see their father. Malash, however, doubts this justification, insisting that the embassy is not taking an objective stand. He told the Weekly that he believes Hodlz is keeping his children away from him in order to pressure the Egyptian authorities into allowing her to travel to Switzerland. "If this happens, I would never be able to see my children again," he lamented.
Peter Nelson, first secretary at the Swiss Embassy, told the Weekly that the embassy does not intend to change its position, regardless of the accusations directed at it. "What we care for in the first place is the interests of the mother and her children. We could not force them to meet their father, because this would lead to very serious psychological consequences," said Nelson. According to the Swiss official, the children are afraid of their father. "They think he betrayed them when he brought them to Egypt against their will two years ago," he said, adding that he doubts that a settlement will be reached any time soon because the situation is very delicate and complicated.
Malash, however, insists that his children are staying at the embassy against their will. "That's why they do not allow me to meet my children," he said.
Malash and Hodlz had married in Switzerland in 1987, but after 11 years Hodlz asked for a divorce which was finalised in 2000. Soon after, Malash and the children returned to Egypt. The core of the problem lies in the debate over the custody of Khaled, Tareq and Anwaar. Malash obtained a court order in Egypt that gives him and his mother custody of the three children, while Hodlz has a temporary Swiss order that gives her custody of the youngsters. Hodlz insists that the children would not be able to adapt to life in Egypt, while Malash contends that his children have been very happy living here with him during the past two years. "They did very well in school; but even if they do not like Egypt and want to go to Switzerland, let them tell me themselves. I want to hear it from them," he argued.
According to Malash, this is not the first time his ex-wife has tried to kidnap the children. "Last March, she took them from school and headed to Hurghada Airport to board a plane to Frankfurt," Malash said. But Egyptian authorities arrested her at the airport because Malash had placed a travel ban on the children; Hodlz was set to face criminal charges until Malash intervened, and invited her to stay with the children at his mother's house.
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