1860-1899 | Egypt | Prisoners murdered

39 Egyptian convicts shot dead

One section of Cairo’s Tora prison in 2015 –
Mohamed Ouda – CC License – via Wikimedia.

10 June 1893

Tora prison, on the southern edge of Cairo, is notorious for housing thousands of Egyptian political prisoners in dire conditions. As a former inmate, I can assure anyone that there are few, if any, prisons anywhere in the world which are more feared. It had a similarly unenviable reputation under British rule. The first of its prison buildings was built in 1884 with convict labour, many of them political detainees.

As with other Egyptian prisons, it was organized by the British authorities so as to run at a ‘clear yearly profit of several thousand pounds by the work carried on by the prisoners.’1 Some were employed in iron foundry work, rope and sack making and carpentry, others in making prison clothing, others in baking bread – Tora’s prison bakery producing some nine thousand loaves daily.2 Others were forced to help construct a railway south across the Sahara to Khartoum, while much of the beautiful stone work you can still see today on buildings across central Cairo was mined by convicts in leg fetters at quarries close to the prison.

On 10 June 1893, 39 prisoners were shot dead by their guards when they attempted to escape. A British newspaper report described how fifty ‘reckless and insubordinate’ convicts, still fettered in pairs, made their dash for freedom on their way back from the quarries at dusk. They formed the last batch of fifty in a long column of six hundred inmates, escorted by 36 mounted armed guards.

The prisoners seized a momentary opportunity when the wardens appeared distracted, overpowering two of them, seizing their rifles, and fleeing across the hilly ground. They were immediately pursued and every escapee found was shot dead. None of the guards were killed by prisoners, although two were injured after falling from their horses shot by the only two armed convicts. Doubtless, the remaining guards hoped to slaughter every single man, but the descending darkness allowed eleven fugitives to make good their escape.3

FOOTNOTES

  1. Cited from a report published in ‘The British in Egypt: Prison Reform,’ The Norfolk News, 17 June 1893, p. 5 and ‘The British in Egypt: Prison Reform,’ The Liverpool Mercury, 13 June 1893, p. 5
  2. ‘The Tourah Convict Prison,’ The Standard, 12 February 1895, p. 3.
  3. ‘Escape of Egyptian Convicts: 39 Shot Dead,’ The Shields Daily News, 13 June 1893, p. 3, ‘Escape of Egyptian Convicts: Thirty Nine Fugitives Shot Dead,’ The Southern Echo, 12 June 1893, p. 4 and ‘Daring Escape of Convicts: 39 Shot Dead,’ The Worcestershire Chronicle, 17 June 1893, p. 7

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