Egypt: President Morsi must send clear message against attacks on Shi’a Muslims

Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi must urgently tackle the unprecedented level of sectarian violence against Shi’a Muslims and ensure they are protected from further attacks, Amnesty International said after four Shi’a men were killed in south Cairo during a violent attack on Sunday.

“The Egyptian authorities must immediately order an independent and impartial investigation into the killing of the four men, and send a clear message that carrying out attacks and inciting violence against Shi’a Muslims will not be tolerated,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.

“Investigations must look at why security forces yet again failed to stop the bloodshed, as well as whether advocacy of hatred and incitement to violence played a role.”

On 23 June, a large group of villagers surrounded the house of local Shi’a Muslim resident, Farahat Ali Mohamed, in the Zawiyat Abu Musalam village in Giza, where a religious ceremony was being held.

The villagers demanded that visiting Shi’a Sheikh Hassan Shahata hand himself over to them.

According to eyewitnesses, villagers forced their way into the house, breaking down the roof, doors and windows. Using sticks and knives, they beat and stabbed some individuals, dragged them out along the ground and attempted to set the house on fire.

Those inside the house – including children – were hit with rocks. The attackers broke several items inside the house including fridges and stole gold and other belongings. During the attack, the mob chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) and called the Shi’as “infidels”.

Hassan Shahata, two of his brothers and Imad Rabi’ Ali died as a result of the attacks.

The house owner, Farahat Ali Mohamed, his two daughters and his son, who were all injured during the attack, were questioned by the prosecution today. According to reports, the prosecution issued 15 arrest warrants, but so far no arrests have been made.

It was reported that 12 people, including a woman and a girl, were also injured as a result of the sectarian violence in the area and that four other Shi’a homes were set on fire in the village.

Eyewitnesses also said police officers and members of the Central Security Forces, the riot police, were present at the scene but failed to intervene to stop the violence.

On Monday, President Morsi issued a statement condemning the killings and vowing to bring those responsible to justice. The statement, however, failed to condemn incitement against Shi’a Muslims. A similar statement by Prime Minister Hisham Qandil did condemn the incitement to hatred and violence.

According to local residents, Salafi and other Islamist groups have been inciting hatred and violence against Shi’a over the past few weeks, including during Friday sermons and by distributing pamphlets calling for their expulsion from the area.

During a conference held on 16 June in “support of the Syrian uprising” attended by President Morsi, several prominent Sunni Muslim Sheikhs used sectarian and inflammatory language to condemn attacks against Sunnis in Syria’s armed conflict. For instance, to wide applause, Sheikh Mohamed Hassan called on President Morsi not to allow Shi’as into Egypt so as not to “corrupt it”; while another speaker called Shi’as “unclean”.

“By not disassociating himself and his government from the hatred and incitement against Shi’as expressed during an event at which he was a speaker, President Morsi failed to signal that attacks against Shi’a Muslims will not be tolerated,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“The mere condemnation of the attack by President Morsi will not be enough to stop the growing intolerance towards Shi’as in Egypt. Unless the perpetrators of these attacks in Giza are punished, the impunity will embolden others.

“It is deeply troubling to think of security forces standing still in the face of such gruesome violence. Only political will can stop this pattern of inaction during sectarian violence.”

Since the rise to power of President Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood prior to his election, last year, Shi’a and other religious minorities in Egypt – including Coptic Christians – have continued to face sectarian violence and discrimination with impunity.