10 June 1893
Tora prison, on the southern edge of Cairo, is notorious for housing thousands of Egyptian political prisoners in dire conditions. It had a similar 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. 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 had formed the last batch of fifty in a long column of six hundred inmates, escorted by 36 mounted armed guards. They 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 prisoner 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 escapee, but the descending darkness allowed eleven fugitives to make good their escape.2
- 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
- ‘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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