A Death Foretold: Analytical report on incidents of killing and forced displacement of Al-Arish Copts, demanding a solid, timed plan for the protection of those who want to return or appropriately compensate for lost property

Press Release

16 May 2017

EIPR released today a report entitled "A Death Foretold" that addresses incidents of killing and forced displacement of Al-Arish Copts.  The report documents the facts of various forms of the targeting of Copts in the governorate of North Sinai with intimidation, ranging from preventing the practice of religious rites, the burning of churches, attacks on property and kidnap-for-ransom, up to forced displacement and identity killings over the past six years and until the last days of February 2017.

The report attempts to put the last events within their broader context characterized by growing sectarian violence in its various forms, the growing influence of extremist armed Islamic groups in North Sinai, the official failure to provide the necessary protection dictated constitutionally, legally and within the norms of international human rights law for the Copts, who are facing this direct threat, despite the availability of the means of such protection within the state machinery.

Documentation of these facts concludes with three main conclusions:

- Based on Egyptian legal and constitutional principles, and international human rights standards, which Egypt has voluntarily adopted, what happened last February cannot be described except as forced eviction by armed or semi-armed groups against a religiously homogeneous group with the intention of displacing them from their homes. It cannot be underestimated nor considered a voluntary departure or a mass exodus to escape an armed conflict.

- The practice of forced displacement is not an exceptional event in the context of the prevailing climate of sectarian tension in Egypt as much as it has been a common practice tolerated by, and even colluded with, state security and local authorities, often through its approval or supervision of the customary reconciliation sessions that were held to settle most sectarian disputes, and in which displacement a salient component of its decisions.

- The management by the security and local authorities of this crisis has failed to meet their constitutional, legal and international obligations to protect the basic rights of Egyptian citizens in the area, primarily the right to life, property rights and non-forced displacement, taking into consideration the long span of time over which events evolved, which should have allowed for expectation, and effective planning for intervention in order to provide protection, as well as taking into account the heavy deployment of security and military presence in the region.

The report was based on a number of field visits undertaken by EIPR’s researchers to the city of Ismailia, collecting many and diverse testimonies from the displaced and their families and some religious and executive officials. It is also based on historical quantitative and qualitative research on incidents of sectarian violence researched by EIPR over the past six years, the outputs of which were published in a number of recent reports and studies.

The report is divided into five main sections in addition to the recommendations and annexes.

The first section presents a historical background on the development of sectarian violence in Egypt since 25 January 2011, documenting its main patterns, while focusing on the role of customary reconciliation sessions and related practices of  displacement as an illegal mechanism for resolving such conflicts.

The second section discusses the security, political and social situation in North Sinai, which set the scene for many security developments during the same period against a background of confrontations between the state and a number of armed radical groups, and the repercussions of this security situation on the lives of Copts in the region.

The third section includes a reading in the incidents of killings and forced displacement that took place last February.

Section four reviews the positions of the main official actors among security, local and executive authorities.

Finally, section five provides an overview of the most important violations against the Copts of North Sinai during this crisis.

The report concludes with a number of urgent recommendations aimed at securing displaced Coptic families, protecting their properties, and enabling them to return to their homes, as well as prosecution of perpetrators without prejudice to the guarantees of a fair trial and other basic rights of citizens.

The report also includes four annexes: The first explains the report’s methodology in collecting and documenting testimonies; the second includes a summary of all cases of displacement documented in the report; the third includes the testimonies collected by EIPR researchers as given by the displaced and their families; and the fourth provides an overview regarding the evolvement of the armed groups in Sinai, the development of their objectives and their tactics.

We offer this report to all legislative and executive bodies and to all civil society organizations, whether human rights organizations, relief organizations or charity organizations as well as the various media professionals, aiming to assist in addressing these events in their historical context and thus contributing to the reflection on effective solutions to firmly address them, and ensure they are not repeated in the future, through addressing their deep roots in sectarianism, discriminatory practices, economic and social marginalization and the absence of public freedoms.