One of the most gripping and revealing episodes of the popular Egyptian revolution that erupted on 25 January, 2011 was a scene in which a disoriented leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood explained to Al Jazeera news channel why he happened to be talking from a borrowed mobile phone outside a prison in the middle of the desert. He kept insisting that he and his colleagues had not escaped from prison, but were released from their cell by members of the public who smashed the door with stones, a process that took several hours. When they emerged from their incarceration, they found no prison guards or officials. ‘We are looking for anyone in authority to notify him of our situation’, he concluded.
According to their account, this group of thirty four top Ikhwan leaders, including seven members of the Guidance Council, the movement’s executive body, had been rounded up by the security forces late at night on Thursday 27 January and deposited at a detention centre run by State Security in a western Cairo suburb. Disturbed by the lack of clarity on their legal status after more than a day in detention, they barricaded themselves in an area of the jail, and insisted on seeing a senior official from the Ministry of the Interior. The assistant to the interior minister finally arrived and promised to resolve the matter within hours. Later that day, the prisoners were informed that they were being taken to the Attorney General’s Department where their cases would be reviewed. However, they were then blindfolded and driven for nearly a hundred miles north on the Cairo-Alexandria highway, where they were transferred to Wadi al-Natroun prison on the edge of the desert.
Arriving there late at night on Saturday, they were still no clearer about their status. Overnight, however, something mysterious happened. Just after midnight, a prison revolt apparently broke out, and the detainees heard tear gas and bullets being fired. By early morning, the prison guards gave up and fled. Still locked in, the Ikhwan prisoners called for assistance from the inmates outside, and someone threw them a mobile phone which they used to call for help. Others tried to break the door from outside. By midday, fellow prisoners, assisted by some locals, succeeded in breaking down the prison door, and the Ikhwan leaders were able to leave and engage in that famous interview outside the gates.