For political prisoners in Egypt and their families, the holidays are not times for celebration and festivities, but times of heightened suffering and agony.
Political prisoners are not allowed to leave their cells even during most joyous religious celebrations; Eids, let alone not being able to see their loved ones— their parents, spouses and children, instead, they receive harsh treatment and abuse by the prison administration, Eids are no exceptions.
According to families, the prisons prohibit the entry of Eid cookies and biscuits under the pretext of implementing the decision to ban the entry of baked goods as they are exploited by criminal prisoners to smuggle narcotics; a rule that is implemented according to the mood of detective officers concerned with inspection, but the prison regulations also oblige them to provide cookies and biscuits to prisoners in Eid occasions.
Iman Ismail, whose husband is a detainee in Al 'Aqrab prison, recounts her distressful experience with this prison during Eid occasions. She explains that as a rule, visits are forbidden even in the ordinary days; therefore, the exceptional visit decided by the Minister of Interior does not apply to this prison.
She confirmed in her interview with Arabi21 news site that eight Eid occasions passed since her husband was imprisoned, and she was unable to visit with him in any of them. Even when they agreed to an exceptional visit, they allowed the entry of 10 families only and refused to allow the rest of the families unlike what takes place in other prisons where the exceptional visit permit applies for a month.
Ms. Ismail added that she used to celebrate Eid with the rest of the families of the detainees in front of the main gate of the prison. They organize Eid prayers and distribute sweets and balloons to children. The balloons bear the names of the detainees, noting that the detainees often do not know about these celebrations until after several weeks or months later, when they are allowed a visit.
Former detainee in the Al Istiqbal (reception) prison, Abdul Halim Abu al Khair, told Arabi21 about the Eid atmosphere in prison. He said: "the prison is composed of large wards with large cells, each of which accommodates 25 to 150 detainees, depending on the size of the cell. In ordinary times where there is no harassment or shakedown, the prison administration allows the entry of the Eid decoration supplies to decorate cells, and exceptional visits start from the Eid eve to the second day of Eid and continue for a month after the Eid holiday."
Despite the short duration of the visit, which takes only five minutes, it represents for Abu Al Khair a great moral support, especially as he sees his family on such an occasion that he used to await eagerly.
Abu Al Khair added that detainees relieve each other and organize an entertainment ceremony to honor the memorizers of the Holy Quran and the winners of competitions organized throughout the month of Ramadan. However, by the end of the day, every detainee goes to his mattress where memories [and grief] come back."
As for the Eid prayer, Abu Al Khair confirms that the prison administration refuses to allow them to perform Eid prayers because the prison is closed, but they overcame that by organizing it inside the cells, and they begin chanting the Eid takbeer from the early hours of the Eid dawn.
Another former detainee, Ahmed Alaa, recounts the distress of the Eid in Al 'Aqrab prison, saying that "the prison is closed for the duration of the official holiday, whether it is a day or three, and the distress would be greater if the Eid comes on Saturday considering that Friday, the day before is also an official holiday. Sometimes, Thursday is a day of harassment and inspection, therefore detainees remain inside closed cells for 5 continuous days, although the prison regulations stipulate that cells should not be closed for more than three consecutive days."
Alaa says that he spent in Al 'Aqrab prison six Eid occasions: three Al Fitr Eids and three Al Adha Eids, where during which nothing changed even with the change of the prison administration, where the cells are closed during public holidays as well as clinics and hospitals, regardless of their duration.
According to Alaa, "they are not allowed to perform Eid prayers outside the cells, which motivated them to perform it inside their solitary cells, and yet they consider Eid days their favorite days since no inspection takes place as in ordinary days."
"These measures do not prevent us from organizing entertainment parties for an hour or two a day," Alaa said. "These parties include songs, recounting fun memories of the detainees and other functions, according to the talents of each one."
Former Al 'Aqrab prison detainee remembers that they were exposed to harassment and shakedown during Eid holiday in violation of the prison law [regulations] when the prison administration launched a shakedown campaign against them after 'Asr prayer (late afternoon) and they were ripped off some of their belongings. And when detainees object to this measure [citing the prison regulations], the officer-in-charge replied: "the prison is ours, the regulations are ours and we owe nobody nothing!"