May 17th, 2011 by Editor
Imbaba incident between the absence of security and law enforcement complications
Report on Imbaba Sectarian Violence Incident
The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR)
May 17, 2011
Cairo – Egypt
Revolution achievements at Risk
Imbaba incident between the absence of security and law enforcement complications
Mary Mina Church, Al Oxor St., Al Basrawy and Al Azra Church in Al Wehda St., Imbaba
The incident took place in Imbaba, a city populated with more than 5 million Muslim and Coptic people. The incident happened in one of the poorest slums in Imbaba. The district includes so many small houses, randomly established without any architectural planes. It suffers lack of the basic and infrastructural services and absence of security.
May 7, 2011, 8 pm
A group of Salafi Islamists attempted attacking Mary Mina Church in Al Oxor St., Al Basrawi Area. 15 people were died in addition to 240 injured people, Muslims and Christians.
The clashes began after spreading a rumor of detaining Abeer talat Khairy in the church. According to the media, Abeer is a lady from Kafr Shehata, Markaz Sahel Salem, Southeast Asyout, announced turning to Islam before 7 months before a sheikh in Al Azhar and also changed her name to be Asma Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim. Yasin Thabit helped her to convert to Islam. The lady decided to move away from her family’s area of residence, but her family looked for her and once she was found she was taken to unknown place in March 2011. Abeer could communicate with Yasin, who asked for help of some sheikhs and other Muslim people to retrieve her. Salafi Islamists surrounded the church and the Christians expected that Muslims will attack the building. The Christians started shooting from high positions over the houses neighboring the church and as a result the Islamists went on attacking these houses.
Muslims and Christians exchanged fire until the morning of the 8th of May, 2011. The clash left a large number of casualties until the army troops arrived in the area with the central security forces and the special forces of the Ministry of Interior. All these forces surrounded the church and the neighboring area. The police troops used the tear gases and water hoses to dismiss the protesters In addition to imposing curfew in the area.
Following the rumor that Christian men are surrounding the church and the neighboring area and many Muslims were gunshot, many Muslim young people and many thugs moved to the area, burned the church, killed the doorman and another person inside the building. Both Muslims and Christians in the area were helping each other in order to extinguish the fire in addition to taking the injured people to the public hospitals
The old regime has played such a very significant role in the creation of this kind of crises. This role was very obvious in Al Kedisin Church Incident in Alexandria, but after the Egyptian revolution of January 25, 2011, all these sectarian incidents can be referred to the absence of the rule of law and law enforcement officers. The absence of the security forces gives the opportunity to thugs to attack innocent people. Nobody is guarding churches these days; also police troops do not secure the suburbs against these kinds of violence incidents. Perpetrators are not taken to trial. Possessing many weapons illegally by many people in Imbaba, which is an old, poor and overcrowded slum, helped implementing this kind of violence. So, the reasons of the violence incident can be listed as follows:
Egypt is still in the democratic transformation period, suffering institutional disintegration and having no power to enforce law, in the absence of the Egyptian police.
the sectarian violence in Imbaba must be linked with other suspended issues between Muslims and Christians in Egypt like the cases of Wafa Koastantin and Kamilia Shehata and arranging protests threatening the cathedral in Abbasia and removal of a Christian person’s ear in Kena. Muslims also opposed having a Christian governor to Kena Governorate and asked for releasing the girl that was detained in Mary Mina Church in Imbaba after getting married to a Muslim.
A war is going on using the internet between fanatic Muslims and Christians. The warriors always use painful words against each other’s religions.
Generally, this kind of violence can be referred to the social and political heritage that made the Christian people feel themselves deprived from many rights mentioned in the Egyptian constitution like having public jobs in important bodies like the prosecution general office and also fair representation in the Egyptian parliament. The religious people, who were supposed to support the principals of tolerance and respecting each other, were feeding the sectarian violence between the two sides.
After Al Khanka incident in 1972, President Sadat formed a committee headed by Dr. Gamal Al Otaifi to investigate the violence incident. The report referred the problem to a number of factors like the rights of establishing churches and preaching.
The report called for simplifying the churches’ establishing procedures and warned against the speeches delivered in both mosques and churches.
Following Imbaba violence incident, EOHR sent a fact finding committee to the area to investigate what is going on in fact and gather testimonies from both the Muslim and Christian sides. EOHR also sent a representative to Naser Medical Institute’ Hospital, where the hospital manager told the representative that the hospital received 14 cases with minor injuries in addition to 7 injured people, who were sent to the intensive care unit in the hospital. Ismail Mohsen Ismail died in the hospital. The prosecution general office has delegated a number of representatives to ask the injured people about the incident. Some injured people did not allow the media specialists and human rights’ activists to talk to them.
What happened before Imbaba Incident?
Imbaba violence in not the only incident after the revolution, there were other incidents listed as follows:
- – Sol Village: there has been a rumor about a relationship between a Christian accessories’ trader in the village and a farmer’s daughter. When her cousins know about the relationship, they insisted to kill her, but her father faced them. When he refused to give her to her cousins, they exchanged fire with him. The clash resulted in the death of the girl’s father and cousin. The villagers raged think that what happened is a result of the relationship between the girl and the Christian young man. The situation deteriorated and the Muslim young men attacked the church in the absence of the police, then many areas in Cairo witnessed protests against the church attack and demolishing. Also, large groups of Christians arranged protests in Sol village.
- – Ezbet Al Zabalin in Nasr City witnessed Coptic protests and clashes resulted in death of 13 persons and 144 persons were killed. The protesters burned 5 plastic production factories, 4 shops, 16 cars and a number of houses.
- – In Kena, the Prime Minister Dr. Essam Sharaf issued a decision to appoint General Emad Mekhael, replacing Mr. Magdy Ayoub, who is Coptic also. People in Kena refused this direction and considering Kena the governorate of Coptic governors. As a result of this selection thousands of people in the governorate organized a protest in order to make the Supreme Military Council cancels the appointment decision. The protesters prevented the employees from entering the governorate headquarters and stopped the train by cutting the Cairo / Aswan railways. The prime minister solved the problem, when he frozen the powers of the new governor and gave his powers to the Governorate Secretary General Mr. Maged Abdel karim in order to operate the governorate.
- – In Abu Karkas, Minia, a Christian created a speed bump in front of his home and that was a reason of a clash between him and a Muslim. The clash resulted in death of two Muslims and 4 other Muslims were injured. After that Muslims destroyed 8 houses belong to Christians in Al Fekria City in addition to burning 6 houses in Abu karkas for Christians. The police troops entered Al Fekria and Abu karkas and imposed a Curfew. The police forces arrested 25 Muslims and Christians, who were involved in this incident. During the curfew, 4 stores belong to Christians were burned also.
Generally, this kind of minor problems always end up with serious sectarian problems. There is a plan prepared to create a Sectarian strife between Muslims and Christians in Egypt and that naturally will threaten the existence of the Egyptian state itself. The integration of the Egyptian people, Muslims and Christians in this democratic transitional phase is very important in order to preserve the social stability and confront the rumors’ promoters.
Different testimonies on Imbaba incident
The fact finding committee of EOHR met 24 eyewitnesses on Imbaba violence incident, Muslims and Christians. The eyewitnesses stressed on the absence of police and the existence of a great number of weapons in the hands of both Muslims and Christians. The eyewitnesses’ testimonies came as follows:
•1- A Muslim citizen lives in Al Wehda St., beside Al Azra Church
“The church was established before 40 years and both Muslims and Christians in this area like each other and such an event had never occurred before. The church priest lives beside the mosque. The perpetrators are mostly strangers, not from Imbaba. The Muslims themselves were extinguishing the church”.
•2- T., Garment store owner
“I saw exactly what happened, my store is in front of AL Azra church. Only teenagers were there, about 17 years old. At 12 pm sharp I heard sounds of gunfire and Molotov. The teenagers and the thugs have locally made weapons; they came to burn the church after they heard that many Muslims were killed in Al Basrawy Street.
•3- F.W.F, a person lives beside Mary Mina Church
“I heard a sound of gunfire at 8.00 pm; I rushed with many people towards the church. Many people with motorcycles were surrounding the church, depressed in “Galabia”; they were 20 to 30 years old. When they started shooting, all people got hidden”.
•4- G.S, a driver
“My sister called me at 7 pm saying Muslims are burning the church. I rushed to the street and found many of people with knives and Molotov. By 9 pm the army troops came to the area with armored vehicles. They stayed at the home of one of the Christians, trying to handle the problem, and then they left without doing anything”.
•5- A Christian person, refused mentioning his name
“The problem started one somebody brought some Salafi Islamist in front of Mary Mina church. Those people said that his kidnapped wife is inside the church, and when they searched the church, they found nothing. One of my relatives was gunshot. There were about 4 dead people and about 35 people were injured inside the church. The protesters attached the ambulance and the firefighting people”.
•6- M., a person lives in Mary Mina Church area
“There was a heavy gunfire in Al Basrawy area beside Mary Mina church. The Salafi Islamists claimed that Abeer converted to Islam and got married to a Muslim person and when she deserted him, his relatives came to the church to look for her. They attacked and burned the houses of Christians in the area”.
•7- M., a persom lives beside the church
“There were many Salafi Islamist with motorcycles in front of the church; they used to acclaim saying Allah Akbar, Good is great”.
•8- M., Tok Tok Driver
“The situation had been deteriorated in the area of Al Basrawi, gunfire, death and injured people were there. The problem is that a Sheikh got married to a Christian girl and when she got mad at him she ran to the church and the Islamists followed her and destroyed everything in there”.
“While I had been getting back home at 12 am, I saw so many people, mostly teenagers, with knives, Swards and machineguns. They were going towards Al Azra Church. They were not Islamists. When I asked them about their destination they said that Christians have killed many Muslims in Luxor Street, so we will burn the church.
•10- B.F lives beside Mary Mina church
“On the Saturday’s night, many people surrounded the church, we do not know either they were Salafi Islamists or not. They said that a Muslim woman converted to Christianity. Those people tried to break in the church and many Christians were protecting the church from inside. I stayed inside the church until 2 am, while the Salafi Islamists were attacking the shops.”
“I had been there since the very beginning, when Salfi Islamists and police troops. They said that a Christian girl converted to Islam and her relatives brought her to the church. The police troops searched the church and when they found nothing, they left the church. Then many people came; they burned houses and shops. The high commander, who was in the area, used to pamper the Muslims and excused us.”
•12- Owner of a Café
“On May 8, 2011, in the afternoon, many sheikhs and teenagers attacked the café then I heard gunfire in Mary Mina church. 20 persons with the police troops came to the church looking for a girl that converted to Islam and got married to a Muslim. Then those people exchanged fire with Christians who were protecting the church and many people were shot dead and got injured.”
•13- R.H.E, a brother of one of the injured people
“My brother was shot; all what he did is protecting the church, the house of Allah. Muslims have been always brothers to us.”
•14- A Muslim lady, demanded anonymity
“I am her in the hospital visiting the son of my Christian Neighbor. She is exactly like my sister; we have never had any problems. The story of the girl that converted to Islam is a rumor.”
•15- Karima, lives in Al Aksor Street
“The reason is that a Christian girl converted to Islam and then she came to the church after having a problem with her Muslim Husband”.
•16- Priest of Al Azra Church, Al Wehda St., Imbaba
“At 9.30 pm, disorders took place in Mary Mina Church area. I called the people who were inside the church on phone in order to lock the doors and never open to anybody. Many Salafi Islamists came and opened the church’s door by force and burned the church; some of them came from the neighbors’ houses.”
•17- M, lives in Al Oksor St., beside Mary Mina Church
“At 5.30 pm we heard about riot in the church area; a group of young men and I went to the area to find out what happened. Thousands of Salafi Islamists came to the area with Toyota microbuses. Both police and armed forces were in the area and witnessed what happened without doing anything. Some Christians died including Medhat, Nashat, Romani and Abnoub. I also got shot in my back.
•18- Father of Basem Fakhry, one of the injured people
“My son was standing in front of the church; he called me saying people are exchanging fire in the area. Then my neighbors called me saying your son was shot and taken to Naser Institute Hospital.”
•19- Romani Badr Nasim, shot in his leg
“I work as a tailor; I was in my working place in Imbaba and one of my relatives called me saying the church is being burned, Muslims are attacking it. I rushed to the church, the situation was still not bad, and then both Muslims and Christians’ numbers rose. Clashes took place and I got shot in the Testis. People took me to the Central Hospital and then transferred to Naser Institute’s Hospital.”
“We saw a number of Muslims with knives and Molotov bottles in front of Mary Mina Church, and then they started clashes with Christians. Many people were injured.”
•21- Saad Bakhit Boutros, shot in the back
“I operate a cloth store in Al Oksor Street; I opened my store at 6 pm, when many people were in the area, dressed in white galabia. I got my store shut and rushed to my children. People in Al Oksor Street were yelling Muslims and Christians are one thing. Then the gathering got divided to Muslims and Christians. Then they clashed with hands, bricks and glass. I got shot in back on my way to house.”
•22- Sherif Ahmed, has got Bruises on the legs and back
“Many Muslims and I went on extinguishing fire in the church with the Christians. The wooden ceiling collapsed on me and others and people transported me to the hospital.”
•23- Mina Helmy Atia, 17 years, shot in the chest
“I heard that a great gathering was in front of the church, my brother was there. I went to the site and asked him to enter the church with me, but he refused. I got shot in my back and people took me to the hospital.”
•24- Sheikh Abdel Rahman
“I have been told that a girl from Assuit converted to Islam and ran away with her Muslim Husband Yasin. Her relatives knew about her place and took her to a house neighboring the church. When her husband knew that, he came to the church with police troops and supporting people. Muslims did not find the girl, but the Christians thought that Muslims intended to attack the church. Suddenly, a young man over one of the houses neighboring the church started shooting, using a machinegun and Muslims replied. The police troops surrounded the area and imposed curfew.”
In the shadow of Imbaba incident, the sectarian conflict issue must be handled carefully and all these inherited offensive ideas should be given up. All the concerned institutions, Al Azhar, the Ministries of Endowment, Education, Information, Interior, Churches, civil society and the political parties should place a joint long term strategy to save the country against these destructive incidents:
- 1- Drafting the citizenship law, followed by the formation of the citizenship committee that will include representatives of Al Azhar, media agencies, Ministries of Endowment, Education, Information, Interior, Churches, civil society and the political parties, in order to find practical and radical solutions for these sectarian problems
- 2- Supporting
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