CAIRO: “It is very clear that the ministry of interior’s investigations can be described as inadequate, violent, short-sighted and in many cases illegal, said the head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) Hossam Bahgat at the launch of an a study about sectarian violence in Egypt Sunday.
“There have been around 53 incidents of sectarian violence or tension, stated the report which emphasize further that this violence has become one of the most serious problems facing Egyptian society today.
The study highlights incidents of sectarian violence “investigated and documented by the EIPR between January 2008 and January 2010. The majority of these incidents took place in Upper Egypt, specifically in Minya, Beni Sueif, Assiut, Sohag, Qena, Luxor and Fayyoum.
He specified two types of violence: the first are acts of collective retribution that target the adherents of a particular religion in one area; while the second is triggered by Christians performing their religious rituals, which does not stem from Muslim society but also from state officials.
According to the report, by imposing “reconciliation procedures instead of initiating criminal cases, the public prosecutors violate the law which states that perpetrators of a crime must be brought to justice using evidence of their crime in court.
The Ministry of Interior “imposes silence on all sectarian violence which is against the will of the parties involved in the clashes.
Bahgat explains that these informal reconciliation meetings are sponsored by the ministry whether or not they are legitimate.
“Forced displacement, which is illegal under the Egyptian law, has been used repeatedly over the last two years, says Bahgat. Residents, such as the five Bahai families who were forced away from their homes in Shouraniya, Sohag, are an example.
At times, the ministry undergoes arbitrary arrests, imposes curfews or engages in collective punishment. “They take in equal numbers of Muslims and Christians. These arrests can put pressure on families and as a result reconciliation takes places, he says.
The report explains that security tries to prevent incidents from reaching the Prosecutor General’s office for investigation by bargaining with and pressuring parties to seek reconciliation. It cites as an example the 21 sectarian crimes registered in Minya, where no one was taken to court. The EIPR’s report says that despite the denial of state authorities, the President himself has started to recognize the danger of sectarian tension, which is an initial step towards a solution.
A few days after Naga Hammadi shootings in January 2010 – where six Copts and one Muslim guard were shot as they left midnight mass on the eve of Coptic Christmas – President Mubarak gave a speech in which he noted, “Reasonable people, preachers, intellectuals and media workers all bear a great responsibility to contain strife, ignorance and blind bigotry and confront the repulsive sectarian tendencies that threaten the unity of our society and the cohesion of our people.
EIPR also explains that any attempt to reach a solution must begin with an examination of sectarianism in Egypt to understand the historical and substantive roots of sectarian tension and its violent manifestations.
Sectarian violence is highly concentrated in areas where poverty is rife. The report links this to the findings of the 2008 Human Development Report. In Upper Egypt, singled out as housing some of the poorest areas in the country, has also been host to most sectarian incidents.