5 June 2011
On the evening of Saturday 8 May, the Copts of the Giza district of Imbaba went through a harrowing experience. Thousands of hardline Salafi Islamists gathered in the area around the church of Mar-Mina demanding that a young female who had allegedly converted to Islam and was being kept captive in the church should be handed over to them. The church could not do that because there was no such person kept there in the first place, so the Salafis started attacking the Copts who rushed to the defence of their homes, shops and church. The clashes resulted in 15 dead, some 340 injured, one church burnt down and another damaged, as well as the torching of a six-storey house and the plundering of some five hours. Eight shops were looted, torched, and absolutely destroyed.
In the blink of an eye, hundreds of Imbaba residents lost their property to fire, destruction or robbery and found themselves without shelter after their houses were burned.
It is self-evident that the State’s most basic role is to protect citizens and their property against any harm. If it falls short of performing this duty, it should compensate those consequently harmed. In case of the Imbaba Copts who lost shops or homes, the State promised, in public official declarations to offer compensations to the victims. But the State did not make good on its promise.
Directly after the riots, Giza governor Ali Abdel-Rahman pledged to repair all the damages incurred at the governorate’s expense. He allocated EGP6 million to repair the burnt-down church of the Holy Virgin and damaged private property, confirming that they will ‘be restored to their original condition’.
Houses, cars, and shops
Not only the shops were damaged, some houses were plundered and burned. A 12-flat building which is situated some 20 metres away of the Holy Virgin church was devastated by the fire. One of its residents, who wished to remain anonymous, told Watani that most of the flats belonged to newlyweds, who had to sustain hundreds of thousands of pounds in losses.
A car parking lot was burned, damaging the cars and cabs parked there. An owner of one of the damaged cars told Watani that a report was filed with the police, and that the car owners accompanied a policeman to the scene of events to record the losses and begin an investigation. Until Watani went to press the car owners were not given any information regarding compensation, and the police agent in charge refused to hand them a copy of the report.
An official at Giza governorate, who asked for his name to be witheld told Watani that the governorate’s north district delegated a committee to determine the losses in the shops and decide on what may be done about them. He said that no compensation was to be granted to the house owners whose houses had been damaged, but that the Ministry of Social Solidarity was granting EGP2,000 to each of the families of the injured and EGP5,000 to those of the deceased. Watani’s attempts to get in touch with Abdel-Khaleq Azouz, head of the North district, all failed.
The only serious damage repair that is being done in Imbaba is the restoration of the church.
Yasser Fawzi, who owns a shop that sells electrical appliances, told Watani that his shop was completely burned. Fawzi filed a report with the public prosecutor who dispatched an official commission to record the damages. He presented to the commission the ownership documents of the shop, as well as pictures of the shop before it was burned. A few days later, Fawzi said, the repairmen commissioned by the governorate arrived, but all they did was to repair the wiring and patch up the damaged shop walls. “When we objected and headed to the governorate,” he proceeded, “no one would listen to us. The governor’s secretary told us that EGP12,000 (a little over USD2000) were allotted to repair eight shops which were completely damaged by the fire.” Fawzi wondered how could this amount be possibly sufficient to repair all the damage done.
“This shop is all what I possess,” Fawzi said. “It contained some EGP100,000 worth of goods, in addition to a nearby storehouse in which I kept merchandise worth EGP70,000 as well. My losses amount to more than EGP250,000, and they only want to grant me a EGP1,000 compensation?”
Ayman Youssef the owner of a photography shop related an experience close to Fawzi’s. He told Watani that after he and other shop owners objected to the governorate’s meagre compensations, they were told to take their complaint to the Ministry of Social Solidarity. There they were told that only the families of the deceased and the injured receive compensation from the ministry, but not those who had lost property.
“I only opened the studio, in which I invested EGP60,000—all my savings—last April,” Youssef said. “And I am only one among many others who sustained huge losses. Who will compensate us for our losses and lost dreams?”