Yesterday we noted that unconfirmed reports coming out of Cairo claim that Egypt's former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly has been detained. Presumably it was Adly, either on his own initiative or under orders from above, who last week released prisoners into the general population to add to the chaos. Now there are reports that Hezbollah members from the cell imprisoned last year for plotting attacks in the Sinai have "escaped," along with Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood figures.
This is a variation on a standard Arab regime ploy, which is to say, prisoners do not get radicalized in jail and then turn into Islamist militants. Rather, the regimes round up militants and then use them to their own advantage when the time is right. The tactic is most often employed now by the Syrians, who as a way station for Islamist militants making their way into Iraq, warehoused perhaps hundreds of foreign fighters. They are not precisely under the control of Syrian intelligence, but Damascus does have a say in choosing final destinations, whether it's, say, Iraq or Lebanon.
After 9/11, the Egyptians became much more careful about how they handled their imprisoned Islamists lest they anger their U.S. ally—until it seems last week.