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Egypt-The Penal System

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Egypt Index

Prison administration was under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior. Prison officials were usually graduates of police or military schools. The main categories of penal institutions were penitentiaries, general prisons, district jails, and juvenile reformatories. Criminals receiving heavy sentences were sent to penitentiaries where they faced hard labor and strict discipline. Penitentiaries could subject prisoners to solitary confinement only as a disciplinary measure for bad behavior. General prisons housed offenders who were sentenced to more than three months. District jails usually housed prisoners who were sentenced for up to three months. Village police stations had jail facilities that they used only for temporary incarceration. As of the mid-1980s, Egypt had three major penitentiaries and twenty-seven general prisons.

After the 1952 Revolution, Egypt implemented some reforms in the quality of penal administration. The government built hospitals in major prisons and provided separate facilities for women. Prisons adopted the concept of rehabilitation; juvenile prisoners received special attention; and, in cases of need, provision was made for assisting a prisoner's family.

Egyptian prisons were overcrowded; facilities designed to hold fewer than 20,000 prisoners housed about 30,000. Most of the prisons were built in the early twentieth century and needed complete renovation or replacement. Six prisons were under construction in 1988 in nonresidential areas, where space was available for farming and dairying by convict laborers.

According to the United States Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1987, prison conditions and treatment varied considerably. Some institutions lacked adequate medical and sanitary facilities. Tora Prison near Cairo, where convicted members of Al Jihad were incarcerated, had a particularly bad reputation. Other prisons provided better living conditions and offered inmates recreational programs and vocational training. In its 1987 report, the Arab Human Rights Organization criticized what it termed "supervision" of the prison system by officers of the GDSSI.

In an interview appearing in a Cairo newspaper in August 1988, then Minister of Interior Zaki Badr acknowledged that "conditions inside the prisons are terrible . . . the prisons are a hotbed of drug and monetary crimes . . . even more so among the guards themselves." He said that the penal system planned to implement modern methods of prison security, improve communication systems among guards, and install electronic closed-circuit television monitoring systems and special measures to ensure efficiency and discipline among prison officers and guards.

According to the 1988 report of the human rights organization Amnesty International, there were many allegations of torture and poor-treatment of detainees, particularly in parts of the Tora Prison complex. Torture was apparently inflicted to obtain confessions in 1987 after a series of assassination attempts against high officials. Egypt has refused to allow representatives from groups such as the Arab Human Rights Organization and the International Red Cross to inspect the country's prisons and meet with prisoners. Members of the People's Assembly who represented opposition parties were also refused access to the prisons. A report by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights in early 1990 claimed that there was a marked increase in the use of torture in 1989, not only against members of subversive organizations but also against ordinary citizens with no political affiliations. Muhammad Abd al Halim Musa replaced Badr as minister of interior in January 1990. Badr had long been criticized for harsh repression of Islamic extremists and violations of civil liberties. Egyptian human rights activists hoped that his successor would adopt more moderate policies and improve the treatment of prisoners.

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A number of articles on the modern role, mission, and equipment of the Egyptian armed forces are included in the December 1989 issue of Defense and Foreign Affairs under the heading "Defense in Egypt." Additional material, some of it no longer current, can be found in the article on Egypt by Gwynne Dyer and John Keegan in the compendium World Armies. In Fighting Armies, G.P. Armstrong summarizes Egypt's military doctrine, fighting qualities, and perception of national security. Trevor N. Dupuy's Elusive Victory evaluates the performance of the Egyptian armed forces in the successive wars with Israel. The Military Balance, 1989-1990, published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, provides the most reliable data on current force strengths and weapons.

Robert Springborg's Mubarak's Egypt assesses the influence of Abu Ghazala on the Egyptian armed forces during the 1980s and the importance of the new military-operated production enterprises. Contrasting interpretations of the status of the military under Mubarak are presented by Robert B. Satloff in Army and Politics in Mubarak's Egypt and by Ahmed Abdallah in an article, "The Armed Forces and the Democratic Process in Egypt," in Third World Quarterly. In Egyptian Politics under Sadat, Raymond A. Hinnebusch, Jr. provides an account of the depoliticization of the military during the 1970s. The criminal justice system, the application of the Emergency Law, and prison conditions are appraised in the United States Department of State's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The significance of the Islamic activist movement as a potential threat to internal security has been analyzed in numerous studies, including Springborg's book previously mentioned, an article by former United States Ambassador to Egypt Hermann Frederick Eilts, "Egypt in 1986," in the Washington Quarterly, an article by Yahya Sadowski, "Egypt's Islamist Movement: A New Political and Economic Force," in Middle East Insight, and the book by Thomas W. Lippman, Egypt after Nasser. A brief commentary by Lillian Craig Harris in Middle East International is notable for its conclusion that the threat to the political system by religious zealotry remains remote. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of December 1990

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