The following blog post was originally written in Arabic to Aljazeera on September 6, 2016 by a young Muslim Brotherhood prisoner, Gafar al-Zafaraani, held at a maximum-security prison in Cairo. It sheds light on the dynamics taking place in Egyptian prisons where ISIS members are detained alongside peaceful activists and young Muslim Brotherhood members. Multiple testimonies point to the recruitment efforts by ISIS members towards young, disaffected prisoners, particularly at the maximum security prison Scorpion. The blog was translated by EgyptWatch.
It was during the initial months of my imprisonment – which has continued for 30 months now and still counting – when fighting erupted in our homelands resulting in the birth of ISIS, and numerous ISIS members began to overflow the prisons.
I used to hear one of them calling out through the crevices in the cell’s door: “It will survive and expand, with the permission of Allah.” I asked myself what is this which will survive and expand?!! After several months, I realised that it pervades through intellect and rationality, and permeates the unity and brotherhood of Muslims – as I shall narrate shortly.
For the past two weeks, a fierce verbal altercation erupted between a group of ISIS members and the rest of the prisoners in the ward (including prisoners of all affiliations without exception). It wasn’t just the Brotherhood as has been reported. The ISIS group was close to literally slaughtering one inmate over the claim that he had trespassed upon the Islamic State. It was only due to the intervention of the remaining inmates that the poor soul’s neck was saved.
This unanimous intervention and aversion was not logical. Whereas it would have been enough for the inmates to simply deter the aggression of the “rebellious group”, the scene was not without a fair amount of abuse. This story has other factors which have led us to such an obnoxious end.
The story begins the moment one steps inside, with a gust of violence coming to receive him on the threshold of the prison. Arriving at the prison results in a reception ceremony called the “tashrifah” involving slaps and kicks – I was thankfully saved from this since no one received me on the day I arrived. The new inmate is then kept in a cell called “irad” where visits and exercise aren’t allowed for a period of one month. In this period, existing inmates bear the responsibility of fulfilling every need of the newcomers including clothing, food and preparing the cell (electric fittings, sanitation etc.).
This is done by a dedicated group of inmates. No one is treated differently or accorded special attention because of their affiliation. Everyone is equal in suffering, as everyone is supposed to be imprisoned for the same cause.
Days pass by. Visits and exercise are now allowed for the group which has arrived waving the flags of ISIS. The first thing they did was branding everyone in the prison as an apostate, and an attempt to assault a member of the aforementioned irad group because he refused to be called an apostate.
Attempts failed to dissuade them from that path. We even failed to reduce their [extremist] sentiments although we are all suffering the same predicament. We failed to become one hand against our captors.
After declaring all of us apostates, they turned to the rest of the prisoners, especially the youth, in order to convince them to embrace their ideology – an ideology which reduces Islam to jihad and reduces jihad to the spilling of blood. They target youngsters who are preoccupied with seeking revenge from those who tortured and imprisoned them; killed their friends; displaced their families; and raped their women. These are the youth who aren’t given satisfactory answers by their own groups on how to respond to the aggressor and keep him at bay.
Hearts brimming with anger find solace in treading that path of violence. Extremists exploit the young age, the lack of maturity and the overflowing cells. They flirt with the emotion of revenge and play with those young and immature minds. As a result, many who wish to walk the path of extremism answer their calls – so much so that they are willing to brand their own fathers as apostates and cut all ties with them.
This emotional deluge was justification of the hate and anger that filled the hearts. Now, they couldn’t forgo any opportunity to kill and behead anyone opposed to their philosophy.
Let me now come to the final scene which summarises the tragedy.
Long after that unfortunate incident, and after emotions were pacified, the prison administration decided to intervene after having watched the incidents with a sense of gloating. We had heard one of them say: “Leave them, they’ll kill each other.”
As a punishment, they led the group of ISIS members barefoot and handcuffed, and ordered them to squat. They forced other inmates to watch this humiliating scene which filled the heart with agony. I wished I could ask them [ISIS members]: “Why did you do this?!!”
We should have united and confronted those rabid dogs who are doing this to you now.
But what shocked me was that one of them looked at us and said threateningly: “We shall meet you outside this prison and seek revenge, O apostates!” I went almost crazy. Weren’t the insults being imposed by our common enemy enough to channel their anger to its deserving place?
Wasn’t he moved by the insults directed at him and his parents? Why wouldn’t he curse his aggressor and threaten him with an angry eye and a lashing tongue, instead of doing that to those who are his companions in the misery of prison? The only explanation is that we don’t share the same cause.