The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) published a fact-finding report produced by a designated committee on 24 June 2013 surrounding the events of the Zawyet Abu Musallam village in Giza, Egypt, during which four Egyptian Shiites were killed after being accused by Sunni villagers of trying to spread their version of Islam.
Background on the Egyptian village Zawyet Abu Musallam
Zawyet Abu Musallam is one of the villages in the township of Abul Nomros in Giza, the third largest city in Egypt. There are about 17,000 people living in this relatively peaceful village, most of who identify as Sunnis. There are around 200 Egyptian Shiites living among them.
Background on ANHRI's committee and the methodology used
The committee, which consists of two lawyers from ANHRI's Legal Aid Unit, began its research soon after news broke on 23 June of the clashes between Shiites and Sunnis in the village.
The committee visited the site of the clashes and interviewed villagers, government personnel, police officers, eyewitnesses, and some of those who knew the victims. The committee partially relied on videos taken during the events and TV interviews conducted with government officials on the topic.
Challenges encountered by the committee
Members of the committee were unable to move around freely inside the village as the Central Security Forces (CSF) had closed down most entrances. They were also unable to reach the victims as many of the injured were sent to hospitals away from the village, and others had, by the time the committee arrived, fled the village.
All witness testimonies, whether from villagers or government officials, unanimously agreed that the crisis had begun over a month ago when some Sunni imams in the village's mosques broadcast a speech filled with hatred and incitement against Shiite Muslims living in the village. Their speeches turned into fatwas, in which Shiites were called infidels, thus leading to the rise of demonstrations led by certain Muslim groups against the village's Shiite community. The demonstration took place in the streets of the village over the course of next three weeks and was particularly targeting the Shiite Abu Meshry family. They stood in front of the family's home and chanted loudly, calling the Shiites infidels who cursed two of the first four Muslim Caliphs, Abu Bakr and Mu'awiyah.
On 23 June, Shehate Abu Meshry invited Sheikh Hassan Shehata, a prominent figure in the Shiite community, to his house even though, according to witness statements, some villagers had demanded that he not receive Shehata. Abu Meshry refused to comply with their demands prompting the villagers to surround his house in the late afternoon. They then attacked the house by throwing bricks and Molotov cocktails. Abu Meshry and his guests tried to flee the house by heading to the second floor of the building but couldn't escape as villagers began raiding the house, partially destroying the roof with iron hammers. Shehata and three others present at the house were killed and he was then dragged into the streets while the CSF and the mayor of the village stood by, refusing to intervene because they had reportedly not received any orders to do so.
According to an officer of the CSF who spoke to the committee, investigators asked Abu Meshry to hand Shehata over to them, he refused by replying, “Over my dead body.”
The committee also visited the Abul Nomros police station to speak to some officers but they refused to comply. However, one person at the station, who also happened to be a resident of the village, did co-operate. He told the committee that the four Shiites killed where at the Hawamdiya hospital. He added that the reason for the violence was the hate speeches delivered at the mosques at Friday prayers against the Shiite community. He refused to offer any additional information regarding the incident.
The committee then headed to village and found it partially surrounded by the CSF. There were eight security vehicles spread out across the village. One police officer they were able to speak to said that clashes took place at around 3 pm between the villagers and that those killed were not involved in the clashes whatsoever.
ANHRI's committee also spoke with a resident of the village who explained that people in the village disapproved of the Abu Meshry family because they were 'Shiites and infidels'. He said that some Shiites in the country had invited other Egyptians to join their religion and that some had accepted the invitation and joined in their rituals. The reason those present at Abu Meshry's house that day were killed, he said, was because the Sunni preachers in the village had called them infidels.
The last testimony given to the committee was by another resident of the village and a photographer, Hazem Barakat. “Today [23 June 2013], I was surprised to see a procession of people walking through the village. I went down to see what was going on and found that people had attacked Abu Meshry's house and threw stones and Molotov cocktails at it. The house didn't burn though, but Abu Meshry and his guest tried to flee to the second floor. The house was then raided, Shehata and three others were killed, and he was dragged across the streets and his body was mutilated,” he said. Barakat then added that he had asked the police officers to interfere but they refused, “their only role was to remove the bodies from the streets later.”
Videos of the incident on 23 June obtained by ANHRI's committee verified eye witness accounts and media reports. The videos show people dragging lifeless bodies across the streets while the CSF stood by watching until after the bodies were abandoned. Officers then carried the bodies to their police vehicles. In one TV interview, Giza's head of security stated that the police officers present did do their jobs. He said that when the villagers surrounded 34 Shiite citizens, policemen were able to smuggle out 30 of them, but the villagers got of four.
Four Shiites were killed, three of whom were Hassan Shehata, Shaban Abu Meshry, and AbdulMonjy Abu Meshry. The fourth victim's name could not be obtained.
Police officers knew about the event, some of them were present at the scene, but none had taken an precautionary measures to prevent a potential attack.
Leading up to the incident, there had been hate discourse targeted at Shiites in the village by Sunni imams.
There is a lack of supervision by the Ministry of Awqaf, which is in charge of religious endowments, over the village's mosques and imams.
We must not distinguish between the spread of hate speech against religious minorities in Egypt, especially Shiites, Christians, and Baha'is, and especially after such discourse had reached a conference held by Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi last week. Hate remarks were uttered in Morsi's presence and those who uttered them were not deterred nor stopped. Recently, posters displaying clear incitement against minorities have also been hanged around the country and there has been no intervention by the authorities. President Morsi should be held accountable for this widespread sectarianism being witnessed in the country, whether it is for turning a blind eye to the hate speech or by failing to end impunity.