NCHR Fact-Finding

Events of Imbaba

Established by:

National Council for Human Rights (NCHR)

Mandate

To identify the truth of the May 2011 events in Imbaba, and to identify the perpetrators, the weapons used, and the role of the security apparatus.

Methodology

Discussing the events with eyewitnesses, religious figures, and those injured in the clashes, and examining photographs, audio recordings, and videos. The report does not note when the fact finding process began.

Named Members

George Ishaq, Hafez Abu Saada, Saheer Lotfi, Samir Muraqas, Diaa Rashwan, Amr Hamzawi, Nasser Amin, and legal researchers Gamal Barakat, Ahmed Gamil, Khaled Marouf, Osama Nashat, Islam Shakweir, Hager Abul Ainayin, and Jasmin Wahdan.

Findings

The fact-finding committee’s report begins by describing the events that took place in Imbaba in May 2011, based on the 23 statements that the fact-finding committee collected from eyewitnesses who were present along the route of the clashes and in the hospital, including some of those injured in the violence.

  • A group of people dressed in gallabiyas, “like Salafis,” went to the St. Mina Church looking for the Christian wife of Yassin Thabet, who was rumored to be held there involuntarily after expressing her intent to convert to Islam. Shots were fired, though the fact-finding committee does not make a determination regarding the source of the shots.
  • The report then states that the event escalated into a confrontation with firearms and rocks that left 13 dead and 280 wounded. The mob (described as appearing “like Salafis”) then traveled two kilometers to the Virgin Mary Church, destroying Coptic property on the way. When it arrived at the church, the mob separated into two groups; one broke into the church and set it on fire, while the other used firearms to prevent intervening citizens from protecting the church.

The report then explores the factors that the committee believes led to the events, including the absence of security forces, the old regime trying to pit factions of society against each other, and the rise of Islamism and takfiri ideology. In the view of the fact-finding committee, these factors are all explicitly linked to the January 25 Revolution and byproducts of political and societal upheaval. Additionally, the report argues that such incidents of violence are not specific to Imbaba, but indicative of a larger trend of sectarianism that has been growing in Egypt for four decades. The committee accuses the old regime of addressing sectarian issues as security issues rather than political and cultural problems, and thus failing to implement useful solutions. The report concludes that the incidents of violence were exacerbated by the socioeconomic weaknesses of the neighborhood, including  high unemployment, overcrowding, lack of services, and a lack of general control over the area.

Recommendations

The fact-finding committee’s recommendations include:

  • quickly arresting and trying those responsible no matter who they are; appointing a group from the NCHR to follow the case after the arrests;
  • making sure that the law is implemented fully;
  • quickly setting up a plan to secure slums around the country;
  • allowing for freedom of expression without allowing people to subvert democracy or create religious discord; and
  • ratifying legislation to prevent discrimination and sectarianism.

Analysis

he fact-finding committee’s report was notably comprehensive in its investigation of events. The 21-page report goes further than other reports of a similar nature by fully elucidating its mandate and methodology, providing a comprehensive list of the locations where interviews were conducted, and delving into the factors that encouraged and allowed the event to occur in the first place. Collectively, these factors lend the report an air of professionalism that is lacking in various other NCHR reports. In contrast to most NCHR reports that downplay the sectarian nature of events, this report is clear about the sectarian violence that occurred. However, much like other NCHR reports which fail to obtain testimony from both sides, the points of view of the individuals described dressing like “Salafis” is entirely missing.  The report’s tone when discussing the January 25 Revolution emphasizes the upheaval it caused in society. The report additionally places a large portion of blame on the old regime for the roots of the conflict in Imbaba, but does not note how these problems can be addressed beyond a vague recommendation of ratifying legislation that promotes religious harmony and improves security in impoverished areas.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights released a report on the events in Imbaba that holds the police and the military accountable, a conclusion that this NCHR report does not consider. Additionally, media reports about the incidents note harsh measures implemented by the military, such as a strict curfew, that are not noted by the fact-finding committee. News reports also described Coptic groups organizing for self-defense after the incident, a phenomenon never mentioned by the committee.

Report

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