Screen grab of a video that shows Shiites being beat up in Abu Mussallem.
Disturbing videos have emerged of a deadly lynching of four men in Egypt on Sunday. The footage shows a group of attackers beating the men to death, and then dragging their lifeless bodies down a street. All four of those killed were Shiite Muslims.
This tragedy took place in the town of Abu Mussallem, about 30 kilometres south of Cairo. A mob attacked the home of Sheikh Hassan Sheheta, a 67-year-old Shiite imam who was in the middle of a meeting with other Shiites.
According to Hazem Barakat, a human rights activist who was at the scene and who describes it in a video (see below), hundreds of people encircled the sheikh’s home, including women who were egging the crowd on to attack the Shiites. Several dozen police officers were also present at the scene, but did not intervene. Barakat asks a security chief about this, on camera. His reply: “They’re attacking us, too!” (See the video below).
Moments later, rioters threw Molotov cocktails at the sheikh’s house, causing a fire to break out on the second floor. Meanwhile, others started attacking the house with hammers. They demanded that the people inside turn over the sheikh, but they refused. The attackers then ripped open the home’s metal door and dragged the Shiite men outside, where they started beating them. Three of them died on the spot, including the sheikh. The fourth died in the hospital, according to the Health Ministry. Eight others were injured.
The bodies of those killed were dragged through the street, while the crowd booed them and accused them of being spies. Barakat says the attackers congratulated one another: “They even shook hands. They themselves brought the bodies to the police officers, who did nothing.”
On Tuesday, security forces finally arrested eight people in connection with the killings.
Photo by Hazem Barakat.
According to Barakat, this lynching was the consequence of increasingly vocal hate speech against Shiites in Egypt. Barakat explains that three weeks before the incident, a Sunni imam at his local mosque told gathered worshippers that Shiites were heretics who “insult the companions of the Prophet”, which is a common accusation against Shiites. Local Salafists organised anti-Shiite protests in the wake of this sermon.
Sunday’s attack was condemned both by Egypt’s political institutions
and its religious ones.
However, many opposition activists have criticised President Mohamed Morsi for not doing enough to stem the rise of hate speech. One incident in particular has unnerved them: On June 15, the president attended a rally in support of the Syrian opposition, which is mainly Sunni; during this rally, Egyptian sheikhs made vicious comments against Shiites (the Syrian president belongs to a branch of Shiite Islam, Alawism) and called for “ridding Egypt of Shiite vermin”
. The president did not react.
More than 90 percent of Egyptians are Sunni, and about 9 percent are Christian Copts. There are no precise numbers on the number of Shiites; however, estimates range between 700 000 and 2 million.