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  • Author: Abdülrahman Ayyash
  • Publication Date: 04-2019
  • Content Type: Research Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: On 28 January 2011 – as hundreds of thousands of Egyptians demonstrated on the day dubbed the “Friday of Anger” – Muslim Brotherhood member, Sameh, was demonstrating with several thousand others in Mansoura in the Nile Delta (120 km north of Cairo). As demonstrators began to throw stones at the State Security Investigations building, Sameh stood in front of them shouting “peaceful”. He was hit in the chest by a stone meant to hit the building in one of the city's most prestigious neighbourhoods. Two years later, Sameh was arrested on an array of charges, including joining the Brotherhood and committing acts of violence against the state. A few months later, he told a friend waiting on death row that he considered the Muslim Brotherhood to be apostates and that he had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (Daesh) and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Sameh's case is not unique. According to several detainees – including current prisoners spoken to over the phone – there are ongoing changes among detainees who have spent most of their lives as Muslim Brotherhood members. Egyptian prisons host tens of thousands of political detainees – perhaps more than 60,000 according to Human Rights Watch.2 Arrests have mainly targeted members of the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters. However, with increased armed attacks against the army and police, arrests have also targeted alleged supporters of Daesh, al-Qa’ida, and Islamists affiliated with smaller organizations. The Egyptian National Council for Human Rights documented prison overcrowding at a rate of at least 160%,3 forcing the authorities to build 20 new prisons since the military coup in the summer of 2013.4 Importantly, this has led to an increased exchange of influences and ideologies among detainees from diverse backgrounds. Detainees – those held after referral to the judiciary or sentencing – are often relocated during their detention, including frequent transfers to temporary detention centres during court hearings, or when brought before the Public Prosecution or for medical treatment. This further facilitates communication with different prison populations and discussion and exchange of ideas between detainees. This paper does not dwell upon traditional classifications imposed on Islamic movements in terms of moderate and extremist trends. Nor does it go into detail regarding the mechanisms of individual radicalization, though it does encourage further study. Instead, we focus on the developmental dynamics of Muslim Brotherhood youth and sympathizers in Egypt, especially those who were arrested during the breakup of sit-ins supporting former President Mohamed Morsi. Developmental dynamics refer to the conditions and contexts which Brotherhood members and sympathizers experience in prison. These inform broader understandings of issues including state and society relations, and social mobility through jihad as opposed to social mobility through the Brotherhood. This paper also discusses the ways in which the Muslim Brotherhood manages its members inside prison, and its attempts to maintain the Brotherhood's administrative and intellectual organization. It is based primarily on information collected during 10 rare phone interviews with current prisoners. It is also based on additional phone and face-to-face interviews with former prisoners inside and outside Egypt. The interviewees come from five different cities and have been in at least seven prisons, including Tora, Wadi al-Natroun, Mansoura and Gamasa; for security and technical reasons, it was not possible to expand the research cohort. The paper is also based on reviews of articles written by detainees, press reports, opinion pieces, and research papers dealing with the complex social phenomenon of the Muslim Brotherhood from different angles.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Prisons/Penal Systems, Arab Spring, Protests, Ideology
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Egypt, Mediterranean