NCHR Fact-Finding

Sectarian Events in Mit Bashar Village

Established by:

National Council for Human Rights (NCHR)

Mandate

To collect, analyze, and categorize the facts about a sectarian incident in Mit Bashar village in Sharqia governorate in February 2012; to determine the number of persons who died and the cause of their deaths; to determine the number of those wounded, injured, and detained as a result of these events; and to refer the report of this fact-finding committee for whatever follow-up action is deemed appropriate.

Methodology

Visiting the village where the events occurred, visiting Sharqia governorate, visiting the general prosecution in Zagazig (the capital of Sharqia), visiting the general prosecution in Minya al-Qamh (under whose jurisdiction the village falls), interviewing and visiting Rania in a caretaker’s house, visiting the police chief of Zagazig, visiting the chairman of Minya al-Qamh, meeting one of Rania’s teachers, interviewing a villager, and meeting the chief of police in Sharqia.

Named Members

George Ishaq, Dr. Youssef al-Quaed, Gamal Barakat, Nabil Shalaby, Osama Nashaat, Ahmed Abdullah Khalil, and Hany Mahlouf.

Findings

The fact-finding committee begins its report by outlining its understanding of the events.

  • Three years prior, Khalil Ibrahim converted from Christianity to Islam, divorced his Christian wife, and left his family, including his daughter Rania. In November 2012, Rania decided to move into her father’s house and converted to Islam. Twenty days before she ran away, Rania chose to become engaged to a young Muslim man from the village.
  • Subsequently, she decided to leave her father’s house, where he was forcing her to pray and read the Quran, for her uncle’s house in Cairo. She lost her way, and at a church, she accepted a woman’s offer to host her. Her father reported her disappearance, accusing Rania’s grandfather, uncle, brother-in-law, and the church’s caretaker of kidnapping her.
  • The news of Rania’s kidnapping spread and let to protests by Muslim villagers in front of the village church, throwing rocks and demanding Rania’s release as they believed that she was inside the church. Police forces attempted to disperse the crowd using tear gas, and two cars owned by Christian villagers were set on fire.
  • Through a friend, Rania learned of her mother’s family’s detention on charges of her kidnapping and went to the police headquarters in Sharqia, where, during a visit from her fiance, Rania broke off her engagement, said she wanted to convert back to Christianity, and expressed her desire to move in with her uncle. She was then questioned by the general prosecution and placed under an official’s care until a final decision was reached.
  • Tensions abated in the village as a result of the village elders’ discussion with Rania and conciliatory announcements from the village mosques.

The committee notes discrepancies between the narratives of Rania and the security forces. Rania alleged that she left her father’s house because he was sexually harassing her and dealing drugs. Upon learning of her family’s arrest, she said that she went to the police station voluntarily. The security forces claim she converted to Islam and moved to her father’s house to be able to marry a young Muslim man. They allege that she left her father’s house upon beginning a relationship with a young Christian man, that their investigation led them to her in Cairo, and that they brought her back to the village.

Recommendations

The committee recommends:

  • that diligent work be undertaken to spread a culture of citizenship, tolerance, and nonviolence;
  • that clear and detailed standards be created for any media seeking to address the issue of Muslim-Christian relations;
  • that an investigation of media that could hurt social unity of Muslims and Christians be conducted;
  • that the media create an atmosphere of equality and brotherhood in line with national goals;
  • that civil society play a role in strengthening citizenship; and
  • that religious speeches raise awareness about tolerance.

Analysis

The fact-finding committee’s report is notable for its attention to detail in documenting the events, but does not incorporate direct interviews. Similar to other NCHR reports, it downplays in its tone the sectarian nature of the event. The testimonies on which the report is built are not firsthand accounts; rather, the report relies on testimonies compiled by the police of Rania’s family members, the church caretaker, and a sole villager. This is a serious drawback of the report, as there is no way to verify the testimonies. The fact-finding committee, however, did meet with Rania herself, which led the committee to note the discrepancies between Rania’s narrative and the police account of events. The committee did not meet with or visit Rania’s parents, family members, or the church caretaker—all testimonies that would have been crucial to bring together a comprehensive picture of events. The fact-finding committee does not explain why it relied on testimony collected by police or why it did not interview more participants itself. The report’s recommendations are vague, identifying that work needs to be done to spread a culture of citizenship, but failing to identify the appropriate government institutions responsible for doing so. None of the committee’s recommendations touch on the issue of justice for those hurt by the mob outside of the church.

Media coverage of the incident differs on whether Rania was 14 or 15, though the committee never addresses discrepancies about her age. The incident received wide public attention and Rania was visited by the Sharqia governor. All of the news reports refer to the incident as undeniably sectarian.

Report

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