Egypt: 'There was no door on which I did not knock"; Coptic Christians caught in attacks and state's failures

Report
July 23, 2013

Egypt: 'There was no door on which I did not knock"; Coptic Christians caught in attacks and state's failures

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Introduction

On 5 July 2013, four Coptic Christian men were killed by local residents in the Nagah Hassan district of Dab’iya village, some 18 kilometres west of Luxor. At least four other Coptic Christian men were seriously injured and required hospitalization, and scores of Christian homes were torched and looted. The attack was triggered by the discovery at about 2:30 a.m. of Hassaan Sidqi Hanafi’s dead body, ditched by the Nile.

According to local religious leaders, the area is home to around 275 Christian families. They make-up under 10 per cent of the population in the small but densely populated village, which lies between the Nile and a canal. While some streets of Nagah Hassan are predominately Muslim or Coptic Christian, the two communities live in close proximity and some areas are mixed. Poverty and unemployment are rampant in the village at the best of times. Living conditions have reportedly deteriorated further in recent years as a result of the drop in tourism in the Luxor Governorate.

The murders mirrored sectarian violence in Abu Musalam village in Giza on 23 June 2013, where local villagers besieged the home of a Shi’a Muslim for hours, eventually breaking-in and stabbing and beating four Shi’a Muslim men to death.1 In both brutal attacks, security forces were present at the scene, but failed to stop the violence.

The attack by residents of Dab’iya and surrounding areas on Christians, their homes and businesses, continued for 18 hours – from about 3am until about 9 p.m. on 5 July 2013. According to local residents interviewed by Amnesty International, security forces, including police from Qurna and Luxor, and riot police (the Central Security Forces, CSF), were present at the scene intermittently through the day, but failed to defuse the violence and prevent the deaths. Amnesty International was told that the security forces made only half-hearted attempts to disperse the crowds using tear gas. During the most brutal attack of the day, security forces evacuated women and children trapped inside a house surrounded by angry, armed crowds, but deliberately left six men behind. Four of the men were then killed by the crowds and another required hospitalization. According to residents’ testimonies, security forces used more force, including heavier use of tear gas, while carrying-out arrests in the aftermath of the deaths, than during the day while the attacks were ongoing.

These latest sectarian murders will test the new Egyptian authorities’ political will and ability to break the pattern of failure to act and cover-up which has characterized successive governments’ responses to sectarian violence. Investigations into the violence must be impartial, full and independent, with the aim of bringing all those responsible to justice. They must provide adequate reparation, including financial compensation, to the victims. Investigations must also look into the role and direct responsibility of the security forces in the brutal deaths. First and foremost, the authorities must immediately take necessary measures to ensure security for Christians and other minorities and uphold their right to life and physical integrity.