A year on, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights has published a report (June 2014) documenting state responsibility for the violence that ensued after the removal of President and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi on June 30.
The report is one of very few thorough documentations by a human rights organization about the period from June 30 until August 17, 2013, which witnessed a number of violent clashes between the state and protesters supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as communal violence between supporters of Morsi and their opponents.
The report mainly holds the state responsible for violations during this period, both through “direct participation in abuses and failure to protect citizens’ lives and property in attacks on them by non-state actors.” It also holds political groups responsible for participating in violence or inciting it.
Thorough documentation of the lead-up to the violent dispersal of the sit-ins held in support of Morsi by Muslim Brotherhood supporters is presented, showcasing excessive use of violence by the state. The clashes in front of the Republican Guards club between security and Muslim Brotherhood protesters on July 8 are cited as an example of this build up. 61 people died during these clashes, mostly of gunshot injuries, as the Republican Guard security broke-up a sit-in by Muslim Brotherhood supporters in front of the club. The Ministry of Interior claimed these clashes started when stones, followed by heavy gunfire, were directed at security forces, but protesters deny having started the clashes as they say they were praying when the attack started.
A resident told EIPR that he looked out from his home to see “army and police forces led by armored vehicles and security forces firing in the air, while the protestors chanted, “God is great, God is great.” Another resident from the area told EIPR, “I knew someone at the sit-in and called to tell him there were armored vehicles heading toward him. By the time we went out, the popular committees at the sit-in had heard the news and had begun banging on metal barriers. It was very clear that the protestors knew nothing and did not attack at all … Half of them were asleep and the other half were praying. The shooting started with security.”
Meanwhile, a source recounted how Brotherhood supporters told forces that they had women and children inside the nearby hospital when security surrounded it, at which point the forces told them to let the women and children go. “They wouldn’t and kept chanting against the army, so the army retreated. They wouldn’t attack the mosque. The armored vehicles also retreated,” he said.
Another example of direct state violence was on July 27, which followed demonstrations supporting former military commander Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s call to support him in his fight against terrorism. 91 people died in clashes between security and Muslim Brotherhood supporters near the Rabea al-Adaweya sit-in. The research confirms the excessive use of birdshot and live ammunition by the police, “while an examination of video footage and witness testimonies indicates no real, ongoing threat to life that would require the police to use lethal force.”
The demonstrators “started throwing bricks and the Interior Ministry responded with tear gas. Then I saw them exchange tear gas and shotgun fire, from the Interior Ministry, which was firing from inside the APCs, and from some of the demonstrators,” a resident living in the area told EIPR.
The Muslim Brotherhood sit-in dispersals in August were documented as another major manifestation of direct state violence. The report described the lead-up to the dispersal when the Cabinet announced its intention to break the sit-ins, accompanied by pro-military media drumming up support for the move. Most of the media, EIPR said, made claims about the presence of heavy weaponry within the sit-ins, which turned their dispersal plan into inevitable action. The report added that the Ministry of Interior did nothing to prepare protesters for the dispersals, despite warnings from the human rights community that any dispersal would cause the deaths of at least 700 people. EIPR didn’t give an exact estimate of the death toll, but said between 500 and 1000 people were killed during the dispersals. The report cites the Prime Minister, then Hazem al-Beblawy, telling privately-owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, “I think the number of bodies was close to 1,000. We expected much more than what happened on the ground. The final outcome was less than we expected.”
At the same time, the report said that Brotherhood leaders did little to minimize casualties. “Marches continued to reach the environs of the sit-in until the late afternoon of the day of the dispersal.”
EIPR documented unlawful lethal force targeting protesters with no proof of them possessing weapons. It also collected evidence that there were no safe exits despite claims there were by the Ministry of Interior.
Meanwhile, examples of communal violence were documented, in which a delayed police response was consistently cited. The report documented four incidents of violence between June 30 and July 5 that were mostly civilian clashes associated with the political divide that increased around the demand for Morsi’s ouster. EIPR’s research showed that these clashes were different in scope and weapons used.
One of the four incidents took place on June 30, when a small march of 30 people headed to Moqattam, where the main headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood exists. When the march reached the building, a rally of curses and stone throwing took place between the people on the march and those in the building. The people in the Brotherhood building then threw mortar bombs and Molotovs, before moving on to heavy shotgun fire. Seven people were killed and tens injured.
The second incident took place in Bayn al-Sarayat, on July 2, next to the sit-in organized by Morsi supporters at Nahda Square. It started with an argument over payment for a parking slot near the sit-in and development into clashes that lasted until the following morning. The clashes left 25 people dead. Footage obtained by EIPR from nearby shops show that dozens of people in civilian clothing — some wearing hard hats, some with beards, some carrying Morsi photos — attacked shops, smashing goods and beating people. One man had an automatic weapon, but in general, Brotherhood supporters carried cutters, shotguns and automatic rifles, and residents used shotguns, bricks and Molotov cocktails. EIPR collected testimonials about police intervention, which only took place the following morning.
Another incident was documented from Manial, on July 5, when residents and Morsi supporters clashed for 10 hours, resulting in the deaths of four people. The clashes were prompted by the Nahda sit-in expanding and inconveniencing local residents. Eyewitnesses also reported late police intervention in this incident.
In Sidi Gaber, Alexandria, Morsi supporters protested on July 5 against the ouster of the president. The protests developed into clashes in which 16 people were killed. Local residents attacked the marches with bottles and bricks, which prompted infighting. Several eyewitnesses, including some from the Brotherhood side, recounted protesters throwing fellow citizens from a rooftop after being attacked from this position. “I saw women wearing the face veil on the tram tracks making Molotovs. I saw with my own eyes two of them holding pistols and hiding them under their veils,” Mohamed Ibrahim, a resident from the area, recounted.
Sectarian violence is a third aspect documented by the EIPR. Brotherhood leaders were charged with incitement against the church and Christians ahead of the sit-in dispersals. Following the disperals, EIPR documented attacks against Christians and their homes, properties and churches. Again, the attacks took place in the total absence of security, EIPR reported. The organization documented the deaths of nine Copts in six days following Morsi’s ouster.
The report was compiled to support the work of the June 30 fact-finding mission, which has been assigned to investigate politically-motivated violence throughout the last year.
In its recommendations, EIPR has called for the empowerment of the June 30 fact-finding mission, in order to persuade state officials to give statements, information and documentation on all cases under examination. EIPR has also called for the establishment of bodies to implement the mission’s recommendations and the publishing of its reports.
The report itself has called for the amendment of laws regulating the use of force by police, and police legislations in general, as well as the creation of bodies to investigate deaths caused by the police. Finally the report called for the repeal of the controversial Protest Law.