WASHINGTON, June 25, 2013 – Egyptian authorities have yet to file a single criminal charge against a mob that attacked and killed several Shi’ite Muslims this weekend for religious “heresy.” Despite President Morsi’s condemnation of the crime as “heinous,” Egyptian security forces have not taken any actions to protect the victims, prevent future attacks, or punish those responsible.
In the attack, Egyptian news agency Ahram reported that a mob of an estimated 3,000 Sunni Muslims attacked and murdered Shi’ite Muslims after setting fire to their homes in Egypt’s Giza district, in a town named Zawiyat Abu Musallem. It is estimated that four Shi’ite Muslims were murdered, while thirty more are being treated for critical wounds. Many reports indicate that while several Shi’ite families managed to escape, others remain besieged in their homes.
Eyewitness Hazem Barakat told various Egyptian news agencies, “For three weeks, the Salafist sheikhs in the village have been attacking the Shias and accusing them of being infidels and spreading debauchery… [Today] I saw several Shias stabbed several times while they were being dragged in some sort of public lynching.” Barakat then took to Twitter and Youtube, posting pictures and video of the incidents as they occurred.
In an interview with Agence French-Presse (AFP), attack participant Mohamed Ismail told the news agency, “We’re happy about what happened. It should have happened long ago.” Fellow villagers observing the interview agreed with Ismail’s remarks, who told reporters that he was a school teacher.
Other witnesses told AFP that the mob shouted “Shi’ites are infidels” during the attack.
“The dream of a new civil Egypt is gradually eroding. A democratic vision for all Egyptians is being replaced with a Salafi ideological movement that has ultimately usurped power with the ascent of the Muslim Brotherhood, and their president, Mohamed Morsi,” said UMAA Advocacy Director Ali Tehrani of the attacks. “Morsi has proclaimed and maintained that he is the President of all Egyptians. Yet, Egypt is undergoing the most drastic persecution of religious minorities since the twelfth century. “
This attack is the latest in a series of mob assaults that Egyptian authorities have failed to act against. Egyptian News Al Bawaba reports, in a story titled Egypt’s ‘killing culture’: As police and politicians lose their grip, mobs take justice into their own hands that “Egged on by communal acceptance, mob killings … have been spreading across rural areas of Egypt amid a chronic security vacuum and a surging crime rate.”
Egypt’s highest Sunni scholar, Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam, condemned the attacks as antithetical to Islam, proclaiming, “Islam does not recognize such [violent] practices which contradict human nature.” In remarks on the same topic, the Grand Mufti declared that killing was a more despicable offense than destroying the Kaa’ba, Islam’s holiest mosque, located in modern day Saudi Arabia.
Conflicting reports have arisen as to the fate of Sheikh Hassan Shehata, a Shi’ite religious scholar, who was the original target of the violent mob. The security directorate in Giza has reported that Sheikh Shehata was killed during the attack, however Egyptian Shi’ite activist Bihaa Anwar told Ahram “Sheikh Shehata is fine and he is currently safe.”
Egypt Independent compiled several posts on social media from prominent government opposition figures discussing the attack:
- National Salvation Front leader Mohamed ElBaradei meanwhile posted on Twitter: “Slaughter of four Egyptian Shias is [the] abhorrent result of sanctioned religious intolerance. Long way to go to ensure freedom of belief!’”
- On Facebook, Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) leader Essam al-Erian said: “Egyptian blood is forbidden, Muslim or Copt, man or woman, Sunni or Shia, civilian or police. All is forbidden.”
- Tamarod opposition campaign spokesperson Mahmoud Badr said on Monday: “Whoever kills Egyptians for differences in religion or sect is a vile person who doesn’t deserve to live in this country.”
The United States Embassy in Cairo condemned the attack demanding swift action from the otherwise languid Egyptian security forces. “We call on the Egyptian government to follow-through on its pledge to ensure that the perpetrators of this heinous crime are held accountable under the law, and we urge a thorough and transparent investigation.”
However, as mob attacks in Egypt are on the rise, prospects for justice continue to dwindle.
Tehrani concludes “If history has taught us one thing, religious persecution does not end with the elimination of one group … Make no mistake, the persecution will spread and dynamically target people of all faiths deviating from the extremist’s vision of the world.”
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