NCHR Fact-Finding

Events of Dahshour

Established by:

National Council for Human Rights (NCHR)

Mandate

To investigate the events that took place in Dahshour in July 2012 and assess their impact on citizens’ rights.

Methodology

Conducting site visits and interviewing members of the families involved, villages, and eyewitnesses. The fact-finding process began on August 1, 2012.

Named Members

Sharif Abdel Moneim, Khaled Marouf, and Karim Shalaby.

Findings

The fact-finding committee’s report divides the people involved into three groups: the Dahir family, the Sami Youssef family, and the family of Muhammad Hussein (the deceased). The report compiles testimony from a member of the Dahir family, a resident of the village, and the family of the deceased.

  • According to a member of the Dahir family, on July 25, 2012, a heated altercation took place between Sameh Sami Youssef, a Christian ironer, and the Muslim wife of Ahmed Ramadan al-Dahir when she went to pick up a shirt for her husband and saw that it was singed. Dahir then paid a visit to Youssef’s shop and entered into a verbal altercation with him.
  • Later that day, on his way back from work, Dahir was assaulted by Youssef’s brother, Wael Sami Youssef. Both sides then agreed to attend a reconciliation meeting on July 26; however, Sameh Sami Youssef withdrew the following morning.
  • In response, a large crowd of Muslims gathered after prayers and made their way toward Sameh Sami Youssef’s house that afternoon. They arrived to find Sameh Sami Youssef and several of his family members barricaded on the roof of their three-story building.
  • The Youssefs began throwing Molotov cocktails at the crowd, hitting and severely wounding one man who would die less than five days later. The crowd then stormed the building, only to find the stairs coated in oil, which the Youssefs ignited with more Molotov cocktails. The Youssefs jumped to the roof of an adjacent building, which was owned by a Muslim man. The man turned the Youssef family over to the crowd, with the exception of Sameh Sami Youssef, who had sustained a wound to his leg. The Youssefs were beaten by the crowd before being taken to the police.
  • The member of the village’s testimony notes that Sameh Sami Youssef had a disagreeable personality and that Takla, the village’s priest, was responsible for inciting the violence.

Afterward, there was a mass departure of Christians from the village. After the funeral of Muhammad Hussein, the man who had been killed in the altercation, a crowd formed and began heading toward the Mar Girgis Church. Security forces managed to disperse the crowd after a fight that left nine policemen and several civilians wounded. Meanwhile, a masked unidentified group of men took advantage of the police’s preoccupation and the Christians’ mass departure to loot several Christian-owned houses and stores.

Recommendations

Based on testimony gathered from villagers, family members, and eyewitnesses, the report makes the following conclusions:

  • The conflict was not sectarian, but rather a family feud which was exploited thanks to “inaccurate reports” regarding the Christians’ expulsion from the village.
  • The Christians were not forcibly evicted and the police played no role in their departure, and the Christians they chose to leave for fear of retribution.
  • The security forces’ response, though quick, was not sufficient to deal with the issue.
  • There is no evidence that Sameh Sami Youssef intended to kill anyone. However, the fact-finding committee’s report emphasizes Youssef’s withdrawal from the reconciliation meeting and eyewitness testimony that he spent the morning before the incident picking up empty bottles and gasoline.

The report concludes with several recommendations, including:

  • calling for an investigation into why security forces were unable to contain the situation and protect Christian property;
  • calling on the media to be more objective, professional, and neutral in its reporting; and
  • calling for an investigation into the actions of the church and in particular the priest, Takla, whom several witnesses identified as instigating conflict between Muslims and Copts.

Analysis

The fact-finding committee’s report presents a comprehensive and well-structured narrative, encompassing a wide range of testimony and evidence. However, the report’s conclusions and recommendations are not always supported by clear evidence and not sufficiently appropriate to address the context at hand. The report’s recommendations are weak because they call for further investigation into issues within the committee’s mandate, such as the actions of the church. The report’s implied allegations against the church priest, Takla, as an instigator of sectarian conflict are not well established. The report does not present any testimony from Takla, nor does it provide evidence of his wrongdoing; according to the lawyer representing  the “Christian faction” in the incident, Takla was not even in Dahshour during the events. The report places blame on the media for its reporting without providing any specifics or justification—a common trend in NCHR reports. Additionally, the report downplays the sectarian nature of the incident, despite how the matter was clearly regarded by the public and the media; for example, a Human Rights Watch report and news coverage from Masrawy and al-Youm al-Sabaa clearly characterize the events as sectarian. Finally, the report describes the Christian families’ departure as voluntary, despite the fact that it arguably still qualifies as forced displacement and sheds light on the police’s failure to protect them.

Report

The full text of the report is available in Arabic here.