On 23 June 2013, the house of Hassan Shehata in Zawyet Abou Mosalam in Giza was attacked. Four people, including Shehata, were murdered. Their bodies were mutilated and dragged into the streets in front of hundreds of people, part of which was videotaped. It is considered one of the most savage incidents of sectarian violence to take place in Egypt.
They were killed because they were Shi’a, and Shehata himself was a Shi’a sheikh. The problem, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), has deeper roots that stem from the absence of religious freedom in Egypt through policies that essentially work on oppressing religious practise.
In a recent study published on Monday, EIPR particularly focused on Egypt’s Shi’a as a case study. The study entitled “The forbidden diversity in the state’s religion: the example of religious freedom for Egyptian Shi’a”, tackles cases where the group’s human rights have been violated between January 2011 and May 2016.
It states that people professing a different Islamic doctrine than the one officially adopted by the state are faced with restrictions, speech of incitement and hate, discrimination, and violence. These methods are usually practised by official state institutions, such as the religious entities, the media, and other Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists.According to Amr Ezzat, EIPR’s programme director for religious freedom, who also prepared the study, the case of violations against Shi’a highlights the obstructions facing freedom of religious practises, even for the Sunni majority.
According to the study, the state monopolises the control practises of Islamic religion under current policies, and religious incitement is sponsored by state institutions amid “leniency” of the state towards violence from certain groups, like the Salafists.
The report calls for immediate reform of official religious policies to prevent sectarian tension that could lead to incidents similar to the Abou Mosalam attack, or even trigger the country’s involvement in regional conflicts related to Sunnis and Shi’a.
EIPR also demands serious investigations into police reports filed against anti-Shi’a activists, and mechanisms that ensure the respect of people’s privacy. Moreover, it demanded combating discrimination in educational and work environments, and the implementation of Article 53 of the Constitution.
The article stipulates that “all citizens are equal in rights, freedoms and general duties, without discrimination based on religion, belief, sex, origin, race, colour, language, disability, social class, political or geographic affiliation or any other reason. Discrimination and incitement of hatred is a crime punished by law.”
The Constitution adds that the state “shall take necessary measures for eliminating all forms of discrimination”, and requests the establishment of an independent commission against discrimination for this purpose.