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Egypt: Rights chief comparison of prison to ‘five-star hotel’ draws backlash

The head of Egypt’s state-backed National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) has sparked criticism online after comparing a prison complex to luxury accommodation.

In an interview on the Egyptian channel Sada Elbalad on Sunday, Moushira Mahmoud Khattab spoke about changes made to benefit “guests” in prisons and compared the large Wadi al-Natrun prison complex to a “five-star hotel”.

The interviewer added that the prison complexes included a hospital and food as “changes made in the guests’ favour”.

Social media users responded with sarcastic remarks while noting the speaker’s euphemistic use of “guests” to refer to detainees.

One user asked: “What are the entry requirements?”

Another said that like most hotels, it has “15 people in the room”.

والفنادق بيكون فيها 15 فى الغرفة 😂
— محمـــــــــــــــــــــد (@Egypt_Giza) July 31, 2023

Meanwhile, one person tweeted that Khattab should “stay there with her kids and husband, spend one or two weeks, stick to what guests (prisoners) should do, and then we will believe you”.

طيب ما تاخدي جوزك واولادك
وتقعدوا اسبوع او اسبوعين
بس تلتزموا بما يلتزم به النزلاء
وبعدها نوعدك هانصدق اي كلام تقوليه
— سامي تدا 2 (@Samy1437856) July 30, 2023

One user said that the statements were “very strange”, adding that it was the first time they had seen an advertisement for prisons, and another said Khattab was trying to “flatter herself with power and social status”.

Meanwhile, human rights lawyer Mai El-Sadany called Khattab’s comments “not only wildly inaccurate, but also a disturbing erasure of the lived experiences of detainees”.

The head of Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights compares the new prison complex in Wadi al-Natroun to a “five-star hotel.”

Comments like these are not only wildly inaccurate, but also a disturbing erasure of the lived experiences of detainees https://t.co/6P9F2V68oL pic.twitter.com/FJgy4Ldzc6
— Mai El-Sadany (@maitelsadany) July 30, 2023

Middle East Eye reached out to the NCHR for comment, but did not receive a response at the time of publication.

Rights abuses

The Wadi al-Natrun prison is one of two complexes that were launched as part of Egypt’s National Human Rights Strategy (NHRS) in 2021, which included plans to modernise prisons.

It has come under heavy criticism from rights groups who say that the facilities fall short of international standards.

Human Rights Watch called a 2021 government-made video about the prison a “caricature of an idyllic rehabilitative life” that covers up “a deeply sinister reality of Egypt’s abusive prison system” and a “crude attempt” to erase the “lived trauma of thousands of prisoners and their families”.

Along with the launch of Wadi al-Natrun, authorities opened the Badr prison complex, officially known as the Badr Correctional and Rehabilitation Center, located 70 kilometres northeast of Cairo.

Badr includes three prisons, including Badr 3, where many high-profile political prisoners have been held after being transferred from the notorious Tora Prison complex in mid-2022.

Several Egyptian and international rights organisations have denounced the poor human rights standards at Badr 3, which they say have led to the deaths of several detainees and prompted mass hunger strikes. Amnesty International said its detention conditions are “comparable to or even worse” than Tora.

Egypt has long been under scrutiny by rights groups for its inhumane treatment of prisoners.

Since becoming president in 2014, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has built at least 28 new prisons, more than a third of Egypt’s total number, which is now estimated to be 81.

He has promoted the Badr and Wadi al-Nutrun as models in human rights compliance, although rights groups have been critical of these detention facilities.

In March this year, a former member of the Egyptian parliament died in the Wadi al-Natrun prison complex. According to the Egyptian Network for Human Rights, Ragab Mohamed Abu Zeid Zair died after his health deteriorated in his prison cell. His family in February requested his release on medical grounds due to the deterioration of his health.

Another prisoner, Mohamed Mustafa Sayed Ahmed, 55, from Cairo, died inside his cell in the same prison complex as a result of medical negligence by the prison hospital, according to the Committee for Justice.

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