National Council for Human Rights (NCHR)
To investigate the sectarian violence that broke out in Abu Qirqas in Minya in April 2011.
Conducting site visits and interviews with members of the local security forces, government officials, the director of the hospital, and Muslim families, and attending public meetings related to the events. The fact-finding committee was formed and began its work after an NCHR meeting on April 20, 2011, discussing the incident.
Sharif al-Sharif, Khaled Marouf, and Ahmed Gamil.
The fact-finding committee’s report begins with a brief background and describes Abu Qirqas as a majority Coptic Christian village.
- Per eyewitness reports, on April 17, 2011, a fight broke out between a Muslim minibus driver, Sayyid Talaet Ashiri, and two Christian men when Ashiri’s bus broke down after driving over a speed bump in front of a Christian-owned house.
- Guards from one of the neighboring houses, owned by Alaa Rida Rushdi, a prominent member of the Christian community, intervened and supported the two Christian men. Ashiri then fled the scene. Several Muslim families gathered and called on the police and armed forces to intervene before any escalation took place.
- Afterward, a meeting was convened at the local council to discuss the issue. It was attended by the governor and security director of Minya and the mayor of Abu Qirqas. As the meeting concluded and attendees stepped outside, shots were fired from the top floors of several neighboring, Christian-owned buildings, killing two and wounding five. In response, the Muslim crowd set fire to six of the buildings and destroyed several Christian-owned shops.
- According to the security director, nine Christians were held and charged with at least one of the following: possession of a firearm, assault of Ashiri, and the death and/or wounding of another person. Additionally, eight Muslim men were charged with arson and the destruction of Christian property.
After interviewing the Minya governor and security director, the fact-finding committee headed to Abu Qirqas, where they noticed a very large security presence. They met with the city council president, who largely confirmed the governor and security director’s account, and the director of the local hospital, who described the condition of the wounded and the nature of their wounds. Of the five wounded, all sustained bullet wounds incurred during the shooting outside the local council.
The next day, after Friday prayers, on April 22 (the first Friday after the altercation between Ashiri and the two Christian men), between 5,000 and 7,000 Muslims gathered and began to march on the Church of Apostolic Grace; however, they were blocked by security forces and the crowd dispersed, which the fact-finding committee’s report notes as a testament to the seriousness with which security forces and local officials regarded the crisis, as well as to their effective response. Nevertheless, the fact-finding committee reported feeling uncomfortable with the overall situation.
The fact-finding committee then attended a meeting on April 24 with Muslim families from the village, security forces, and religious leaders. The Muslims in attendance made several demands, including a request for security forces to disarm all of the Christians in the area before negotiations commenced. The security director deemed this impractical; however, he reiterated that all of those responsible would be brought to justice, and called for the Muslims to exercise self-restraint to prevent the crisis from escalating. The majority of those in attendance expressed their conviction that Rushdi was the main source of the violence and had incited the Christians to attack the Muslims.
The fact-finding committee’s report concludes with several observations about the crisis, as well as some recommendations. The committee observed that:
- most of the Muslim families believe that was the principal culprit in inciting the violence, a view that the fact-finding committee does not dispute or question in its report;
- the lack of a “balanced discussion” and “lack of a moderate religious awareness” played a role in the crisis, with the report casting blame on Muslims and Christians equally; and
- peace in the town is temporary and violence could easily break out again if strong government measures are not taken.
Finally, the report calls for an initiative to disarm the general population and combat the profusion of firearms and live ammunition throughout Egypt.
Overall, the fact-finding committee’s report on the Abu Qirqas events presents a comprehensive narrative of events bolstered by the committee’s presence on the ground as many of the subsequently described events actually unfolded. However, the report is undermined by three factors. The first is the failure of the fact-finding committee to interview any of the Christians involved in the incident. To explain this shortcoming, the fact-finding committee cites its inability to reach any Christian families and its reluctance to pursue any action that would negatively impact the resolution of the crisis. However, inconsistent with these statements, the fact-finding committee met with several Muslim families, including the families of the two men who were killed, and ventured into Abu Qirqas despite advice to the contrary. The second shortcoming is the committee’s endorsement of the the view expressed by the Muslim community on Rushdi as the main instigator of the crisis, without providing any concrete evidence or testimony to support this allegation. Finally, the committee’s recommendations do not address the government’s role in promoting a culture of citizenship, focusing only on the role of Christian and Muslim religious leaders.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights also released a report about the Abu Qirqas incident, which largely conforms to the narrative endorsed by this fact-finding committee but notes that some of the looting of Christian property took place in the presence of security forces. Other news reports confirm the sectarian clashes and Rushdi’s influence on the events, but differ in the number (18 people) and denomination (10 Christians, 8 Muslims) of those arrested. Pro-Christian sources, through interviews conducted with Rushdi, claim that Rushdi was not an instigator of the violence.
The full text of the report in available in Arabic here.