The We Record human rights organisation has uncovered that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has built the largest prison in the country’s modern history, an indication that the Sisi regime is predicting further challenges to his rule and possibly another revolution in the years ahead.
Through analysis of social media posts, photos, video footage and satellite videos, We Record established that the prison was built in Wadi Natroun in the Beheira Governorate and has a capacity large enough for at least 34,000 prisoners, a figure which may double as authorities are known for cramming as many inmates as possible into cells.
According to the rights group, the complex also has a hospital, a court complex, intelligence offices and several internal prisons. Also inside are mosques, greenhouses, and other buildings which We Record believe to be solitary confinement cells.
“The capacity of this prison and the way it has been built doesn’t indicate any improvement in the field of human rights in Egypt,” Haitham Ghoniem, co-founder and head of the Open Sources Investigations Unit at We Record, told MEMO.
“The regime says it is stable economically and politically but yet it is building new prisons.”
In fact, the construction of this complex indicates that Al-Sisi forecasts that the coming period will be more difficult for him and that he will need to arrest a lot more people.
“If a new revolution is coming, he must be ready for it,” says Ghoniem.
Since the military coup in 2013, Egypt’s prisons have been full of political dissidents, most of which have dared at some point to speak out about the severe human rights abuses taking place under the current government.
In 2016 the Arab Network for Human Rights Information said that Egypt had built 13 new prisons to house all the thousands of political prisoners that keep getting arrested.
Many have been kept in detention without trial, despite the two-year limit in place under Egyptian law. Often, as their two-year period is coming to an end, they are recycled onto new cases to prolong their detention.
Many prisoners are dying a protracted death due to the widespread and systematic denial of medical care in poorly ventilated cells with little sunlight and insufficient food.
Most recently, a surge in suicides or suicide attempts have been reported as detainees are unable to handle the conditions in which they are held, compounded by the ban, or severe restriction, on family visitors.
The Geneva-based Committee for Justice has called on the Egyptian authorities to halt en masse executions as convictions are based on unfair trials.