Raping the Jews in Egyptian prisons

Following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, and the subsequent Arab-Israeli wars. The Egyptian government, along with the rest of the Arab world, decided to strip off citizenship, banish, and imprison the Jews in their lands. Some 100,000 Egyptian Jews fled to Israel, North America, and Europe. Of that number, a sizable minority of Egyptian Jews remained to face the horrors of Arab rule. Following the Six Days War, the Egyptian government arrested almost every Jewish male in the country, at least one person from every family and over 20% of the entire Jewish population, and detained them in Abu Zabaal, a major detention facility in Cairo still operative till this very day.

Jews were arrested wherever they were, bedrooms, schools, buses, and workplaces. Upon arrival to Abu Zabaal, Jews were greeted by the chief Rabbi crucified above the gates. They had to pass under the Rabbi into the nightmares the Egyptian officers had prepared for them. Upon arrival, they were met with a barrage of insults, kicks, and punches. Then they had to choose a female name each because that’s how it works in my part of the world, being a woman is the ultimate degradation. The Jews then were raped, watched each other getting raped, and forced to rape each other. There is one account of two brothers who were forced to rape each other. “I can’t! He is my brother!” pleaded the adolescent helpless Jew. “Rape him!” came the command from the torturer.

I met some of the Egyptian Jews remained in Egypt until 1967 many of whom were detained in Abu Zabaal. In 2013 I made a personal pilgrimage to the Egyptian Karaite Synagogue in Dally City. I asked them,  “Why did you stay for so long? Why didn’t you leave after 1956?” They all said, with crying voices and tearing eyes, “We thought it was going to get better! We thought it was going to go away! We were from there. Where else would we go?” One man, Mark Kheder, once he knew I was Egyptian, exploded in anger, “Do you know what happened in Abu Zabaal? Do you know what they did to me?”

The situation in Abu Zabaal was so dire, European governments, which are not known to be great lovers of Jews themselves, had to intervene. The Spanish ambassador, Angel Sagaz, went back to the time of the Inquisitions to prove to the Egyptian government Sephardic Jews were Spanish. The Spanish government granted citizenship and extradited 615 families, about 1500 Jews, after assuring the Egyptian government those Jews won’t publicize the situation and won’t move to Israel. The French government did the same for the tiny minority of Ashkenazi Jews. The only ones left were Karaites, a minute Egyptian Jewish sub-sect with no ties to the outer world. Jewish mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters were beaten and kicked out of government offices after they came to beg for the lives of their men. Some accounts do suggest some of them might have been sexually assaulted.

Some of the Jews in the cells died from torture, committed suicide, or went insane. The rest suffered through it. After two years the Egyptian government released them and kicked them out to various countries. Egypt officially became Judenrein. This story, and many more, largely remain unknown. Nevertheless, they continue. Rape in Egyptian detention facilities is as common as hot tea. In 2010 I was detained by the Egyptian Military Intelligence and was investigated on the grounds of being a Zionist and a Jewish spy. My interrogator threatened me he is going to break a glass soda bottle, and shove it up my anus raping me and gutting me out at the same time. I cried and begged knowing the credibility of the threat.

Growing up in Egypt, everyone knew about the government’s war with Islamists. They arrested young Islamist wannabes, tortured them, and raped them turning them from young ignorant Islamists into full blow jihadis. Many of those young men came out of prisons to join Alqaeda, ISIS, and many other jihadi groups.

While we may condemn Islamists understanding the hateful and dangerous nature of such a toxic ideology, that should not stop us from empathizing with those kids who Arab governments turn them into suicidal maniacs. We need to fight Islamism and radical Islam, but the sexual violence and the torture, which Egyptian Jews witnessed at firsthand, is aggravating the problem to catastrophic ends. Since Sisi came to power in Egypt in 2013, the Egyptian government built 80 news prisons just like Abu Zabaal. Egyptian prisons are now at a 160% capacity. The torture and the rape described earlier is still done against young Islamists, homosexuals, political dissidents, and journalists. Human Rights Watch reported that Egyptian prisons became fertile ground for ISIS recruitment and that ISIS controls entire sectors of the Egyptian prison system.

Growing up in an antisemitic environment, I hated Jews passionately from a young age. Learning about Abu Zabaal opened my eyes to the reality of antisemitism and Jew hatred. I ended up creating my own Jewish story imprisoned, tortured, then later exiled. Yet, I refuse to be silenced, and I refuse to forget. The sins of the past are still carried on today and destroying our world. The tragedies happening daily in Abu Zabaal, and many other similar prisons around the Muslim world, are becoming a disturbing global force. The rape and sexual violence cultures are now in Europe, terrorizing European women and men. We need to talk about it!

About the Author
Hussein Aboubakr was born in 1989 to an Arab Muslim family in Cairo, Egypt. Hussein studied Jewish and Middle Eastern history and Hebrew literature at the Faculty of Arts and Oriental Studies Department at Cairo University. Persecuted by state police for his research at the Israeli Academic Center of Cairo, Hussein participated in the Egyptian revolution until he was forced to depart Egypt as a political refugee. He now lives in the United States. He is a member of JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa an organization based in San Francisco.
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