Earlier this year, a British mother traveled to Egypt to rescue her daughter from abduction. She was aided by Scottish-born mother of four Donya Al-Nahi, who has been dubbed ‘Jane Bond’ for her daring rescues of children who have been taken by their fathers and whisked off to various foreign countries. It was a daring and dangerous escapade, culminating in the 29-year-old mother, disguised in traditional Muslim garb, snatching her daughter away from an Egyptian relative in broad daylight, bundling her into a car and sneaking her out of the country.
For Donya Al-Nahi – a convert to Islam – the story began in 1998. She met a woman at a bus stop in London and the two got chatting. Al-Nahi learned the woman was distraught over losing her six-year-old daughter, who had been taken to Libya by the girl’s father. A short time after that encounter, Al-Nahi resolved to rescue the girl and reunite her with her mother. She did exactly that and, since then, she claims to have snatched 20 children from various Arab countries – having been stolen away by their fathers – and returned them to their British mothers.
Another British mother found herself facing the same situation in 2011; her husband fled to Egypt with the couple’s 1-year-old daughter. The British authorities said that they were powerless to force the girl’s father to return her England. For his part, the father, Mustafa, had called the girl’s mother to warn her against attempting to recover her and vowed that he would never return her to her mother. Two years after baby Mona was taken away, Alex Abou-El-Ella – who had also converted to Islam but was not a practicing Muslim – decided that the time had come to get her daughter back. With help from ‘Jane Bond’ Donya Al-Nahi, she tracked Mona down to a small village in the Nile Delta.
The two women traveled to the village – the mother disguised in the long, Islamic dress know as the Hijab, with all but her eyes covered – and staked out the apartment where, they had discovered, the little girl was living.
Early in the morning, as the women sat in a car with a hired driver, watching the apartment complex, Alex spotted her now 3-year-old daughter leaving the building with a woman and a little boy. They were on their way to the nearby pre-school. Alex, struggling to move well in the long dress she was not accustomed to wearing, got out of the car and followed the woman and two children along the street.
Walking faster and faster, Alex could see her daughter just ahead. She gradually closed the gap until she was just behind the three. “I was walking behind them, faster and faster, and saw Mona’s hand a few meters away from me,” she later recalled to a British newspaper. Still struggling to move in the Hijab, Alex lunged for her daughter, snatching her up into her arms. The Egyptian woman turned toward her, wide-eyed, and began to scream. Alex ran, a best she could, back to the waiting car. The woman was behind her. She reached for the car door but it was locked; the automatic door locks had engaged. Donya Al-Nahi reached over and opened the door from the inside, pulling Alex and Mona into the vehicle.
“we couldn’t close the door and I felt the woman breathing on my back,” Alex recounted. “I just screamed, ‘Drive.’”
As they sped away in the car, it w heartbreaking for Alex to hear her daughter screaming in Arabic for her mother – she was not screaming for Alex. “But after half an hour,” Alex recalls, remembering that long drive to the airport with her daughter, “she looked up at me and said, ‘Are you my mum?’”
The two women rushed to the airport, hoping to escape Egypt as quickly as possible. Alex feared that they would be apprehended at the airport in Cairo. She had brought with her the Polish passport of her other daughter, in order to keep Mona’s identity a secret. The women were able to bribe an official and managed to board a plane to London. She also had with her Mona’s real British passport, which they used on arrival at London’s Heathrow airport; Alex is still uncertain how her husband had managed to enter Egypt with Mona, since he had spirited her out of the UK without the passport. Leaving Britain would not have been a problem, since he had Mona listed on his own passport, but she should have been required to have her own passport to enter Egypt.
Recalling the daring rescue from Egypt, Al-Nahi, who had accepted no payment for her assistance, said “You only have one mother and no one has a right to take you away from your mum.” Downplaying her own role in the rescue, she added “Alex was the real hero here. She took the girl.”
By Graham J Noble