Made in Prison

Third Generation of Jihadists in Egyptian Prisons

Takfirist and Jihadi groups have turned Egyptian prisons into recruiting stations, taking advantage of jammed quarters to recruit young men to join them.

The National Council for Human Rights warned in a report covering 2013-2017 that Egyptian prisons are overflowing with men one and half times beyond their capacity to hold. And thousands of those are young men jailed after the rebellion of June 30, 2013 that swept Mohammad Morsi from the President’s office, the dispersal of the Rabe’a Al-Adawiya sit-in, and the many terrorist attacks targeting the army and police. In prisons as crowded as Egypt’s regulations stipulating that prisoners must be classified and housed only after their psychological, personal, health, and social status have been evaluated go mostly ignored. We will tell here the story of how prison transformed four young men into extremists. We talked with their parents; prison friends; and lawyers. We also met with ex-convicts, former jihadists; and experts in the affairs of Islamic groups.

* At their request and to insure their safety, names of the prisoners have been changed.

Since 2015, many of the released prisoners’ testimonies circulated indicating that the Egyptian prisons were an ideal place to create radicals, and attract new members to the Takfiri groups. This was in addition to testimonies from lawyers indicating the transformation of some of their clients and their refusal to continue judicial procedures.

The former leader of the Islamic Group, Dr. Najeh Ibrahim, said that reviews and dialogue are the entry to treating this phenomenon. He said there was also benefit in the experiences of European and Arab countries with reconciliation, such as the rehabilitation of radicals in Moroccan prisons.

Like Egypt, the Moroccan prisons were filled with radical members from the Salafi-jihadists and the extremist ideology members who were arrested following terrorist bombings in Casablanca in 2003 and 2007 and the 2011 Marrakech bombings.

This pushed the Moroccan authorities through the General Directorate of Prison Administration and Reintegration and in partnership with and financing from the United Nations Development Program in 2017 to launch a reconciliation" program that consisted of integrating convicted terrorists, fighting radical discourse, and promoting tolerance.

The program, coordinated by the Muhammadiyah Association of Scholars (an association of religion scholars in Morocco) focused on reconciliation with self, reconciliation with religious text, and reconciliation with society.

It touched on four dimensions for prisoners: the religious dimension and related understanding and comprehension of religious texts in the correct manner, and the jihadi prisoner’s convictions regarding society, the state and the world.

The second dimension was the prisoner's understanding of the rights and laws governing the individual's relationship with the society and the state. The third dimension was psychological rehabilitation and studying transformations the prisoner has undergone beginning even before the prison to the trial and then to execution of the penalty depriving freedom.

The fourth and final dimension focused on rehabilitating the prisoner for return to society and to economically and socially integrate, according to the annual report of the General Directorate of Prison Administration for 2017.

The program included giving lectures to display recordings and testimonies of some families who were victims of terrorism, in order to notify the prisoners, convicted of such crimes, of the magnitude of the harm caused by their radical actions to society and the impact on its stability.

The United Nations Development Program is working on continuing and financing the program through 2020. So far it has benefited about 25 prisoners convicted of terrorism and radicalization, representing samples of different jihadi trends in Al-Arjat Prison 1 in the Moroccan capital Rabat, according to the Moroccan General Directorate of Prison Administration.

Europe also has suffered attacks by people imbued with radical ideas in prisons, making the announcement of plans to counter radicalization in prisons a top priority for governments there.

In France, which witnessed a series of terrorist attacks in 2015 and 2016, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced in February 2018 "The National Plan to Counter Radicalization". It included establishing 1,500 cells to isolate radical prisoners on trial for terrorist acts from the rest of the prisoners, and setting up three handling centers to care for persons under judicial control, particularly "returnees" from conflict areas in Syria and Iraq.

Egyptian authorities ignored our questions and correspondences.

Major General Najib, former assistant minister of interior for prisons, denied any problem in the Egyptian prisons, saying "The administration of any prison will not allow radical groups to influence prisoners, and what happened with Mahmoud Shafiq or others are merely individual cases among the current thousands of prisoners."

Meanwhile Dr. Kamal Habib, the former jihadi leader, describes delay on the part of the state to take necessary measures as a "big mistake". He said treatment starts with the state's awareness of the risk of postponing consideration of what is happening in prisons. He also stressed the need for rehabilitation centers within the prisons for dialogue, discussion and review, and the reintegration of prisoners in life, and before that the intention of the current authority to achieve this.


ARIJ’s Producer
Abdulrahman Yahia
ARIJ's Senior Editor
Mostafa El Marsafawy
General Supervision
Rana Sabbagh
Investigated by
Mahmoud El Wakea
Design, Animations and Development
Marwan Al Qadi
Drawings and Sketches
Ivan Cuadro
Roger Anis