National Council for Human Rights (NCHR)
To document and explain the events that transpired in al-Warraq in May 2011, in response to rumors and misunderstandings about the incident.
Visiting the site of the incident and conducting interviews with eyewitnesses and officers of the al-Warraq Police Station.
Dia al-Ghamri, Nabil Shalaby, Asmaa Shihab, and Karim Shalaby.
Per the report, on May 11, 2011, an armed fight broke out between two Muslim families: al-Amarna and Abu Awaf.
- The Amarna family attempted to forcefully evict renters from an apartment building that they had just purchased, and the Abu Awaf family intervened. According to the report, the house contained several sick and disabled residents, many of whom had been residing there for 30 years.
- Witnesses stated that members of the Amarna family threatened the residents with knives and other weapons, which led to the Abu Awaf family’s intervention. Both sides had Molotov cocktails, knives, shotguns, and automatic weapons. The fight lasted between 5:00 p.m. and 12:00 a.m., and several people were rushed to the hospital with injuries.
- Eyewitnesses concurred that although the police were present at the scene, they did not become involved until midnight, after the armed forces arrived with tanks and armored personnel carriers. Additionally, every witness strongly denied claims that the fight was motivated or characterized by sectarian differences. They emphasized that Christians and Muslims fought on the same side (against the Amarna family); they also stated that rumors about the conflict being sectarian had spread because it occurred in the wake of the incidents in Imbaba.
- According to the report, the fight broke out at the same time as a peace meeting between Muslims and Christians (to address what happened in Imbaba), and the sight of a Christian deacon and a Muslim sheikh running down the street toward the site led several people to improperly conclude that it was a sectarian clash.
After establishing what actually transpired and refuting rumors about a sectarian conflict, the fact-finding committee’s report addresses the failure of the police to intervene. According to the police department, the matter was taken care of and the participants dispersed without a formal police report; however, several witnesses contradicted this claim. Furthermore, the police department provided no explanation for why it failed to intervene earlier.
The report concludes with three recommendations:
- immediate actions to be taken by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Interior to clamp down on the perpetrators of the violence, especially considering the delicate situation in the area and the fear that another incident could occur again;
- increased security presence in the area by means of increased police patrols;
- decisive police intervention in future conflicts before they escalate; and
- factual reporting on the matter by media so as to combat rumors, noting that there was no media coverage about the event except in al-Youm al-Sabaa; the report claims that this lack of accurate and comprehensive media coverage facilitated the spread of rumors.
Overall, the fact-finding committee’s report about the events in al-Warraq is structured and clear, but superficial in its analysis of police intervention. The fact that police were present at the beginning of the incident—which quickly escalated to involve over 2,000 people and could have potentially resulted in the deaths of many—yet did not intervene or attempt to diffuse the situation at an earlier point, was not sufficiently addressed by the report. The committee’s assessment of the nonsectarian nature of the conflict is in line with previous NCHR reports that have often downplayed this angle; however, in this case, lack of media coverage makes it hard to identify whether the incident truly had sectarian undertones or not.
The report’s recommendations are partial to the police, advocating for a greater security presence. Rather than critically examining the police’s actions in this instance, the report calls on the police to decisively intervene in future conflicts, without analyzing why it did not in this instance. The witnesses interviewed by this fact-finding committee were residents of the housing complex, a worker in a cafe in the area, and two shop owners; thus, the report does not present an adequate picture of events because the committee did not interview any of the members of Abu Awaf or Amarna families. The report’s methodology would have been bolstered by a larger number of interviews from eyewitnesses. The report’s recommendations are commendable for their specificity, though they favor heavier police presence as the antidote to instability.
A full text of the report is available in Arabic here.