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February 03, 2020

New Report Details Abuse and Radicalization of Children in Egyptian Jails

New Report Details Abuse and Radicalization of Children in Egyptian Jails

Brian Dooley
Senior Advisor

 

A shocking new report on the radicalization of child prisoners in Egypt is a sharp reminder to U.S. policymakers that Egypt’s jails remain recruiting centers for ISIS.

The new revelations from the NGO Beladay outline how child prisoners are exploited by terrorist groups, and echo much of what Human Rights First’s report last year found on the radicalization of adults in Egypt’s jails.

According to the Belady report Between ISIS and Egypt’s Counter-Terrorism Measures: Children are Radicalized, Exploited, and Taken as “Hostages,” the Egyptian authorities carried out over 1500 politically-related arrests of children (those under 18) between July 2013 and December 2018. “In nearly 450 cases involving children, the prosecution charged the prisoners with terrorism,” found the NGO. “The typical charge includes ‘joining a terrorist group or providing logistical support to its networks.’”

Belady spoke to former child prisoners, their families and lawyers, and to other prisoners, and found a pattern of abuse that fuels radicalization.

The U.S. government continues to send Egypt around $1.3bn in military aid every year. It has done this for decades but has failed to use that influence to stop torture in Egypt’s jails. Washington’s ally Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi appears not to have addressed this issue of horrific prison conditions, despite mounting evidence that his jails are breeding grounds for terrorism. 

Belady found that when prisoners were abused, “with no recourse to redress and accountability,” it increased “the prisoners' sense of oppression and injustice, leading them directly to extremism.”

The report includes testimony from Abdullah Boumediene, who was 12 when arrested. It says while in a police station he “was tortured with electricity, waterboarding, and hung from a hand from which he suffered a disability. He was placed on an iron bed that was set on fire. He was handcuffed, beaten, deprived of food, and bathing.” 

When children are abused that way, the protection offered them by ISIS groups inside prisons becomes very attractive. One former prisoner told Belady that when 20 young students returned to the Borg El Arab16 prison after taking an exam outside, they were stripped and beaten, resulting in “pivotal behavioral change for the youth and children.” After that, “three [of the] children increased time spent with ISIS members in their cells.”

The Belady report states that “most radicalized children had no prior contact with radical thought before imprisonment, and some such as Safi, who received a ten-year prison sentence for rioting and attacking the MB [Muslim Brotherhood] headquarters, were even charged with committing violence against Islamists. Despite his initial supposed hostility towards Islamist groups, ISIS succeeded in radicalizing him, leading him to declare the judge an infidel during the court hearing.”

Belady concluded that “The increase in the number of ISIS members in prison has helped them build social support networks that provide their members and recruits with protection and access to scarce goods and services such as food, books, and phone calls. Moreover, they provide an opportunity to fill a political and ideological void. Child political prisoners become easy targets for recruitment.”

The new report’s findings are very similar to those of Human Rights First. In our report released in 2019 we suggested that “ISIS wins favor with prisoners by exploiting the humiliation and rage caused by abuse. The group offers the promise of vengeance against Egyptian authorities, and protection against both guards and other prisoners.”

I spoke to a range of former prisoners in Egypt last year and found that “As the number of ISIS prisoners has grown, they have become an increasingly powerful force inside the penal system, intimidating guards, and in some instances taking de facto control over parts of prisons.”

Both Belady and Human Rights First recommend that to prevent further radicalization the Egyptian authorities should take steps including: “To allow local and international NGOs to conduct prison visits and verify compliance with national and international standards,” and “To implement transparency and accountability for the violations in detention facilities.”