Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Izbet Bushra

Following upon the text from yesterday which introduced our summary report, I post here the abstract for the paper which described our findings from the case study which informed it. Should you wish to read the full paper, it will provide a window into the vagaries and contradictions of Egyptian media reporting on incidents of violent conflict. The paper is an effort to sort through these reports to determine what really took place, but to go further and suggest paths for reconciliation. This was more or less the first case I received in Egypt with Arab West Report; until recently almost all subsequent activity was related to it.

On June 21, 2009 violent conflict broke out between Muslims, Christians, and security forces of Izbet Bushra, a small village located in the governorate of Beni Suef, approximately 120 kilometers south of Cairo. The issue at hand was Coptic prayer services being conducted in a private home, which caused offense to Muslim neighbors, who constitute approximately 60% of village population. Damage was done to the building as well as to other Christian homes, and people from both sides were injured in the altercation. Security arrested many and imposed curfew, after which Christians conducted a sit-in protest at the cathedral in el-Fashn, the location of the bishopric to which Izbet Bushra belongs. This was followed shortly thereafter by reconciliation session between all sides, which freed all perpetrators from custody and produced an oral agreement to compensate afflicted parties and authorize an official church in a different location in the village. Until today that promise has not been kept; security relates that sufficient tension has not yet been removed from the village.

These lines may represent a summarized timeline of the events following June 21, but they hardly represent the entire story. This paper explores the issue of Izbet Bushra in depth, seeking to discover the larger context behind the incident as provide integration of as many facts and testimonies as could be collected. This has been done through access to the many media reports published about village, as well as through investigative research undertaken by the Arab West Report team or by others commissioned on our behalf. The result is a thorough collection of data that rounds out the story, providing depth and color.

Unfortunately, a wealth of data also produces confusion. Testimony from the two sides is contradictory, as are the news reports which depended on these oppositional sources. Yet background can be provided in stating that the house used for public prayer services was not an innocent effort to conduct Christian worship. While it is true that no formal church building exists in Izbet Bushra, and that the procedures for obtaining permission to construct a church are burdensome and lack transparency, the Christians of the village purposely deceived both government administration and Muslim neighbors in declaring the building in question to be built as a factory. Upon its completion it was then first made into a residence for the priest and then employed in its lower hall for church services. While this fact makes more understandable the Muslim reactions, details even here and in the attack which followed remain unclear.

This paper first arranges all testimony, no matter how contradictory, into a narrative flow in order to give a timeline of events. It then records a best attempt at synthesis in order to distinguish from fact and speculation, offering a faithful and unbiased effort to understand exactly what took place. This recording is not done for its own sake, however, as our interest in Izbet Bushra lies ultimately in social reconciliation between the two parties. In this hope the paper concludes with suggestions for each religious community in order to seek for a solution to restore village harmony. These proposals are offered humbly, and we await the right opportunity in which we might engage village leaders to encourage them toward dialogue and reconciliation.

Click here to read the full paper.

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