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Egypt's prisons a breeding ground for extremism, warns report

Daesh may have been wiped of the map but appalling abuse of prisoners in Egypt is accelerating recruitment for the terrorist organisation, human rights groups have warned. Rights organisations and former detainees fear that more people than ever are vulnerable to radicalisation in prisons and jails as Egypt goes through what has been described as the "worst human rights crisis in decades".

The warning was reported by the Foreign Policy magazine which looked into the growing radicalisation of people due to the repressive clampdown by the Egyptian regime. Citing Amnesty International, the report estimates that more than 60,000 people had been arrested or charged in Egypt since President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi ousted the country's first freely elected President Mohamed Morsi in a 2013 coup, with the arrests targeting a broad group of political opponents.

Hussein Baoumi, an Egypt researcher for Amnesty International, described the condition in the country as being "one of the worst periods in terms of crackdowns and arbitrary arrests."

People can be arrested in Egypt for absolutely no reason at all.

The report traced Egypt's history of militancy and extremism within its prisons, pointing out that Al- Qaeda's current leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, is among the high-profile extremists to be radicalised in Egypt's brutal prisons. Amnesty warned that Egypt is at risk of repeating its past mistakes while describing Al-Sisi's crackdown on civil liberties as "unparalleled in Egypt's recent history".

Estimates of the prison population are said to vary, but in 2016, World Prison Brief concluded that around 90,000 prisoners, whether political or not, were held in the country's prisons, with another 16,000 people held in its jails. Meanwhile, it is estimated that 18 new prisons have been built in the last six years, according to Human Rights Watch.

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One of the inmates cited in the report said that he was arrested for political activism in 2015 and was detained in Al-Qanatar prison, the jail of Giza's court, and several police stations. He saw several men detained for nonviolent crimes who then turned to extremism during detention. "I have seen men who have been imprisoned because of a disagreement with a local police officer who then made a case against them. They end up going to prison, they are in a cycle of not being tried and then being put under arbitrary detention for an indefinite amount of time," he was quoted saying in the Foreign Policy report.

"These people are filled with so much hate – they hate the state and they hate the police. They have lost their jobs, they have lost their businesses. This makes their lives miserable, they leave a family behind them. These are the people who are approached by extremists," the former prisoner explained.

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The report accused the Trump administration of assisting in the radicalisation of prisoners. It said that rather than condemning prison overcrowding and civil rights violations, in July 2018, the US administration under President Donald Trump reinstated $195 million in military assistance to the Egyptian government. Speaking in Cairo this January, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also praised the Egyptian president for "his vigorous efforts to combat the ongoing threat of terrorism as well as the radical Islamism that fuels it."

In contrast the US Congress is at odds with the White House on the matter with both the Republicans and Democrats expressing concern that Al-Sisi's policies are actually a threat to national and international security. In 2017, a bipartisan group of senators wrote to Trump, urging him to press the Egyptian government on human rights issues or "risk enabling Egypt to perpetuate the very sorts of conditions that help to breed violent extremism and terrorism."

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