Weeks of Killing
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights today issued a report on the most significant incidents of political violence that swept Egypt in the weeks before and after the government of former President Mohamed Morsi was deposed in July 2013. The state bears primary responsibility for what may be the worst acts of violence in Egypt’s modern history, with thousands killed and injured. The EIPR presented the report, “Weeks of Killing: State Violence, Communal Violence and Sectarian Attacks in the Summer of 2013,” to the national fact-finding commission investigating the events of 30 June 2013 and its aftermath, following a request from the commission in a meeting earlier this year.
The report affirms that the state bears primary responsibility for human rights violations in this period—both through security forces’ direct participation in abuses or their failure to protect citizens’ lives and property in attacks on them by non-state actors. The report also places responsibility for certain acts of violence on members and supporters of the Muslims Brotherhood and sympathizers with the government of the deposed president, both for their direct involvement in violence against public institutions or private property or their use of hate speech and incitement to sectarian discrimination.
One of the four parts of the report addresses the dispersal of the sit-ins at Rabia al-Adawiya and Nahda Squares on 14 August. A special section was devoted to these events since they were the most significant in terms of the number of victims, the use of excessive force and the magnitude of violations.
Rabia and Nahda: unnecessary excessive force and unjustifiable failure lead to the death of hundreds
The report estimates the number of victims at the dispersal of the Radia sit-in—where clashes lasted for at least 11 hours—at between 499 (according to the Forensic Medicine Authority) and 932 (according to data from the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights). The latter number appears to be more accurate and is close to the estimate of Prime Minister al-Beblawi, who referred in media statements to approximately 1,000 casualties. The dispersal of the Nahda sit-in, next to Cairo University, took approximately two hours, leaving 87 people dead.
The report finds that security forces failed to plan for the dispersal of the sit-in with a view to minimizing human casualties, imposing collective punishment on every person in the area, especially after some protestors—a small number by most accounts—used firearms and exchanged fire with police.
Sources for the report said that security forces used unlawful lethal force in more than one case, targeting a large number of protestors without evidence that they possessed weapons. In most cases, there were no actual safe exits to protect protestors who wished to leave the site without facing attempts by residents of nearby buildings to harass them.
The report notes that Muslim Brotherhood leaders made no effort to minimize the number of their supporters at the sit-in when the dispersal began or explain the serious danger facing them. Testimonies and other evidence indicate that a number of protestors used firearms, but it is difficult to determine the time they began to use live ammunition or the amount of ammunition used. It appears that several protestors used bricks, Molotov cocktails and primitive homemade shotguns while a fewer number used live ammunition and shot at police forces, killing several policemen. It is clear from eyewitness testimony and journalists’ accounts, and the comparison of casualties on both sides, that the overwhelming majority of the protestors at the sit-in were unarmed and that Rabia was not an armed sit-in in the way that the sit-in at al-Nahda was. Moreover, the Interior Ministry’s official statement that police forces had found ten automatic weapons and 29 shotguns confirms that this level of violent intervention and lethal force was unwarranted. Video footage also shows that many of those killed constituted no threat at all and that indiscriminate shooting by police for long periods killed many innocents, some while they were trying to escape or hide.
The EIPR believes that security forces should have observed two main principles in engaging with the two sit-ins: proportionality and good administration. As the report says, one of the most important rules of good administration in dealing with assemblies and public disorder is that in the event that the decision is made to use force governments must devise a set of possible responses for more than one scenario and draft an appropriate, proportional approach for each scenario. Judging by the events detailed in the report, it does not appear that the security forces planned well for the possibility that demonstrators might resist the dispersal with firearms. According to various testimonies and the statements of protestors themselves, the shooting by protestors came from only two areas: some rooms in the Rabia al-Adawiya reception hall and the building under construction overlooking Tayaran Street, known as the Manayfa building.
EIPR researchers spoke to more than 40 people, among them demonstrators, the wounded, field doctors and paramedics, and journalists and correspondents on the scene, as well as doctors who treated the injured, volunteers who helped to count the dead and document deaths and injuries, and government officials. EIPR researchers also helped to count the dead, provided legal aid at the Forensic Medicine Authority, and were present at hospitals and the Zeinhom Morgue, which allowed them to survey several bodies, see death reports and view external autopsy reports. EIPR researchers and the authors of this report also looked at field reports about the incident and reviewed official statements and statements from government officials and Interior Ministry leaders.
Three types of violence
In addition to state violence, especially by police forces who used excessive force, the report highlights the significance of two other types of violence during the period under review: civic violence and sectarian violence.
The report shows that civic violence, or violence between non-state, civilian groups, whether paid thugs, members of a certain political faction, or groups unorganized into any particular formation, spread during this period. Despite the modest level of weaponry involved in these civil clashes, dozens of Egyptians were killed, hundreds injured, and many people sustained property losses. Acts of sectarian violence, or indiscriminate violence against particular religious groups on the basis of their religious identity, saw victims targeted who were believed to be responsible for certain political stances (real or imagined) taken by the community’s leaders.
These three types of violence overlapped in various incidents discussed in the report, which is divided into three parts. The first part covers events from 30 June to 5 July 2013, in which civilian violence was dominant. Part two looks at the period from 8 July to 14 August, when state violence was dominant, while part three covers 14 August to 17 August, in which sectarian violence was predominant.
Accurately documenting all incidents of violence in this period is beyond the ability of any single advocacy or research group. We can only offer indicators that might help to understand current-day events. Thus, the report does not address other incidents in which hundreds of people were killed and injured—in Ramsis and the Fath Mosque, al-Nozha and Alf Maskan (Cairo), al-Omraniya and Kerdasa (Giza), Kom al-Dikka in Alexandria, Suez and several other places around the country—which EIPR researchers were unable to directly observe at the time.
Civic violence and government failure
Part one of the report looks at four incidents of unprecedented civic violence (clashes between non-official individuals and/or civilian groups) that took place from 30 June to 5 July, leaving 53 people dead and hundreds injured. In these events, the absence of the state was one of the primary factors for escalation. Part one documents the clashes that took place in Muqattam at the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau office on 30 June, which lasted for more than 16 hours and ended with the death of seven people and the injury of 31. It then examines events in the Bayn al-Sarayat area on 2 July, where clashes persisted for 18 hours, ultimately resulting in 25 deaths and more injuries. This is followed by clashes at Sidi Gaber on 5 July; lasting nine hours, they took the lives of 16 people. Finally, this part reviews the clashes in Manyal on 5 July, which lasted for nearly ten hours, leaving at least four dead (in addition to one person wounded in the fighting who died 41 days later) and no less than 103 injured.
The clashes on these six days were almost limited entirely to civilians fighting one another, involving either competing anti- and pro-Morsi demonstrators or demonstrators and the residents of the neighborhoods they passed through (described as either local residents or thugs, depending on the narrator). As revealed by an investigation into these events and the monitoring of media coverage, this violence was qualitatively different from previous violence, in terms of the type of clashes, the scope of the violence and the weapons used in street battles. The largely civilian participants used a wide variety of weapons, including bladed weapons, Molotovs, primitive, locally made firearms (maqarit) and automatic weapons. In every single incident discussed in the report, live ammunition was used in the heart of residential neighborhoods and in broad daylight, leading to numerous victims in these events.
Clashes between the state and demonstrators: excessive force and unjustified violence
The first clashes between the state and pro-Morsi demonstrators in which the security apparatus used excessive force took place outside the Republican Guard Club on 8 July, during which 61 civilians and three security personnel were killed. Civic violence continued as well, usually accompanying demonstrations and marches demanding the deposed president’s reinstatement, claiming additional victims even as the state was unable to do its duty to intervene to protect the lives of citizens on both sides.
The demonstrations of 26 July, on so-called Mandate Friday, held to express popular support for the interim government’s policies, ended with clashes in several areas, with at least 16 people killed in Alexandria. Police forces engaged pro-Morsi marches the next day with excessive force, killing at least 91 people, along with one policeman. The violence continued to escalate until the decision to forcibly clear the sit-ins at Rabia and Nahda on 14 August.
Sectarian violence: sectarian incitement and failure to prevent anticipated crimes
The report documents the increasing incitement by leaders of the pro-Morsi legitimacy coalition against Coptic Church leaders after the armed forces removed Morsi on 3 July. During marches in several governorates, Morsi supporters scrawled anti-Christian graffiti on church walls and Coptic homes and property. There were also attacks on Christian religious institutions and Coptic property in several governorates, especially Minya.
The dispersal of the sit-ins at Rabia and Nahda set off an unprecedented wave of sectarian violence and reprisals against Copts in numerous governorates. The attacks typically began when pro-Morsi marchers headed to churches or Coptic-owned property and ended with the torching, looting, or vandalizing of these properties. The attacks were largely carried out in the total absence of security forces, firefighters or civil defense, or army personnel. In some cases, Muslim citizens and Copts themselves held back the attacks by forming popular committees to protect churches.
Citizens were targeted for various types of ill treatment based on their religious identity, including detention, physical harm, abduction and even murder. According to incidents documented by the EIPR, the six weeks following Morsi’s ouster and up to the day the Rabia sit-in was dispersed saw ten deaths, among them nine Copts and one Muslim. The Muslim casualty had attacked Coptic homes in Dilga, located in the Minya governorate, during pro-Morsi demonstrations, when a building belonging to the Catholic church and Coptic homes were attacked. The nine Copts were killed in several governorates: four were killed in sectarian attacks in Nagaa Hassan, Luxor governorate; two in North Sinai, one of them a Christian cleric and the other a shop owner whose body was found after he had been abducted; and one each in the governorates of Minya, Sohag and Cairo.
In these few short weeks, 43 churches came under attack. Of these, 27 of were looted and burned almost or entirely to the ground, while 13 churches were partially looted and their doors and windows vandalized or destroyed; shots were fired at three churches. The attacks also struck seven schools and six Christian associations, including two medical centers and an orphanage. In addition, seven church service buildings were torched, and the homes of ten Christian clerics were attacked.
The performance of the security apparatus during the wave of attacks on Coptic citizens and churches that followed the protests of 30 June was characterized by sluggishness and failure. The security apparatus failed to intervene proactively to prevent attacks, despite various indications of sectarian tension and the spread of incitement against Copts among Islamists and their supporters. Security then failed to intervene rapidly to prevent the events from escalating and they were slow to respond to appeals for help from citizens.
Report recommendations require political will and ability and a shift in security policies
The EIPR report concludes with several recommendations. Their implementation requires political will, changes in the security establishment’s methods and scope of operation and laws regulating it, and a greater emphasis on the rule of law and its institutions. The EIPR hopes that in the future Egypt will see security, judicial and political institutions capable of managing civil conflicts in the most peaceful, salutary way, in which the state exercises a monopoly on violence, not to engage in unlawful, unfair practices, but to ensure that violence is not used to resolve conflicts, win one’s rights, or infringe the rights of others.
For the independent fact-finding commission investigating the events of 30 June 2013 and its aftermath, the report recommends that the commission be empowered to subpoena all state officials to give a statement. The commission should have the right to compel all government and private bodies to provide it with all information, statements, documentation and evidence pertinent to its assigned tasks. It should have the power of summons, search and seizure while ensuring judicial oversight, and instruments should be established to monitor and implement the commission’s recommendations after the completion of its work and the submission of its reports, including an instrument to require the judicial authorities to pursue the commission’s recommendations regarding possible legal violations. A clear law for the protection of witnesses, members of the commission, and evidence should be instituted and enforced, and finally the commission’s final report should be released to the public.
The fact that the commission was compelled to extend its mandate, scheduled to end on 22 June, and the approval of the government indicates that it needs additional prerogatives and authorities to better perform its tasks.
The EIPR hopes that the fact-finding commission will succeed in conducting a broad investigation as a committee with official powers, unlike civil rights groups, which must rely only on testimonies and materials available to them. The EIPR submits the report to the commission in the hope that it will help not only to discover the truth, but to prosecute those responsible for the death and injury of thousands of Egyptians in these few weeks. We hope that the distance from these bloody events and the end of the roadmap announced on 3 July 2013 will foster a calmer climate that permits a serious, responsible engagement these events.
The report also recommends forming an independent committee of security and legal experts and civil society representatives to propose policies, systems and technical changes in the operation of the police, to be submitted to the next parliament to be incorporated in a law. The report identifies several aspects of police work that require reconsideration. Laws regulating police use of force and firearms should be revised to bring them in line with international standard and best practices. An oversight instrument independent of the executive should be established to investigate incidents of death or serious injury at the hands of police, whether in detention facilities subordinate to the Interior Ministry or in public places (such as checkpoints, streets and roads, and any other area not directly under the control of the police), with the aim of promoting accountability and ending unlawful police violence and the excessive use of force and ammunition.
In addition, the report advocates drafting appropriate legal amendments to address incitement to violence without infringing on the right to the peaceful expression of opinion.
The 86-page report relies on the investigations of EIPR researchers who observed the violence or interviewed witnesses, journalists, field doctors and medics, and doctors and medical workers in the hospitals around the site of violence. The report also uses press statements made by political and security officials and official statements issued by the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Health. Researchers also closely reviewed hundreds of video clips available at online news sites or filmed on camera phones by witnesses or journalists. Collecting testimonies was an extremely arduous process due to the fraught security situation during many incidents of violence, which impeded direct observation.
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