National Council for Human Rights (NCHR)
To investigate the violence between Muslims and Christians in the village of Sherbat in Alexandria in February 2012.
Coordinating with the Ministry of Interior and with the Alexandria Security Directorate to obtain official documents detailing the events of Sherbat, and conducting interviews with members of parliament in Alexandria and with members of the tribal council that ruled on the matter, particularly Ahmed al-Sharif, then a Salafi member of parliament for Amreya, who headed the tribal council.
The fact-finding committee’s report, which is described as a preliminary report, begins with a brief summary of the events that transpired in Sherbat on February 9, 2012, tracing the outbreak of the conflict to the circulation of an illicit video taken of Coptic man Murad Salimi Gagosh with an unnamed, married Muslim women.
- According to the report, Murad gave the video to a Muslim coworker, who then shared the video with other Muslim youth in the village. The next day, following Friday prayers, a large crowd of Muslim men gathered outside of Gagosh’s house. In response, the son of Christian businessman Abu Suleiman fired several warning shots into the air.
- This action instigated violence, which culminated in the burning down of Gagosh’s house and two stores belonging to Abu Suleiman. During the attack, Abu Suleiman’s son fired into the crowd, leading one man to attempt to return fire. However, when a group of more “level-headed” Muslims in the crowd attempted to intervene, four were accidentally injured and one was rushed to the hospital in critical condition.
- According to the report, 25 police cars from the municipal Alexandria police were dispatched to quell the violence, and member of parliament Ahmed al-Sharif was present at the scene as well. Sharif convened a tribal council with five representatives from each party to help resolve the issue. Initially, the Muslim families requested that all Christian families in the town leave; when that demand was rejected, the Muslim families instead decided to expel everyone connected to the specific “crime of adultery,” which included eight Coptic families. According to Human Rights Watch, this decision was reversed two weeks later. The family of the Muslim woman was also asked to leave, but the fact-finding committee’s report notes that the departure had not occurred as of the writing of the report. The report concludes with Member of Parliament Ahmed al-Sharif affirming his dedication to “containing the situation” and his “readiness to meet with the NCHR” to discuss the matter.
Perhaps because the report is preliminary, no recommendations are listed explicitly at the end of the fact-finding committee’s report.
The fact-finding committee’s preliminary report on the Sherbat event is confusing and inadequate; the language of the report is often poorly crafted and difficult to follow, with inconsistent numbers. Discrepancies in the report include, for example, a mention of eight Christian families expelled at the beginning of the report, but only one mentioned in the conclusion of the report. Coupled with the report’s brevity, at three pages long, there is reason to believe that the report was hastily and carelessly prepared. Additionally, the report fails to include any final recommendations regarding justice or the prevention of similar incidents, nor does it analyze the sectarian nature of the events. The report provides no justification for its omission of differing narratives, including Murad’s—per media coverage, he claims that the allegations against him are untrue—or its lack of eyewitness testimony. A CNN report charges that the Christian families were forcefully expelled, but an attempt was made by a member of parliament to cover up this fact in order to avoid further escalating tensions. The article includes quotes from the village priest who was clearly dissatisfied with the results of the reconciliation session; however, the fact-finding committee never interviews him. Other news reports confirm the sectarian nature of the event. An Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights report compiled participant testimony of the incident that established that Christians were forcefully driven out of their homes and faced violence from their Muslim neighbors.
Finally, the events in Sherbat raise several important questions about the use of tribal councils, rather than the official judicial system, to resolve sectarian disputes. The failure of the report to address this issue is a missed opportunity.
A full text of the preliminary report is available in Arabic here.