People clustered around the Spire structure in Dublin’s O’Connell Street on Friday 2nd October, many of them displaying a placard with the digits “777”, sometimes nothing else. But some also held an enlarged photo taken of a Dublin youth of Arab extraction, Ibrahim Halawa. Members of his family and community were there too with a banner, as were a relatively small number of supporters, including some Left and Republicans.
Colm O’Gorman, CEO of Amnesty Ireland gave interviews to media personnel present and so did Lynn Boylan, Sinn Féin MEP and of course some members of Ibrahim’s family. Curiously, no leaflets were handed out to explain to passers-by what the rally was about. Nor were there speeches to inform even those gathered there about the background to the case or progress or what people could do to help further.
Ibrahim Halawa was 17 years of age and on holiday in Egypt nearly two and half years ago when arrested, apparently for participating in a demonstration banned by the Egyptian regime. He may have been a conscious participant or may merely have been swept up in it in passing. But now he faces a possible death sentence if found guilty. Another 420 are also charged, some of them with murder or attempted murder during an attack on a police station on the same day. Ibrahim was arrested with his three sisters but they were granted bail and permitted to return to Ireland after three months.
Friends and relatives were hopeful that the trial would proceed as scheduled at the weekend but on the day some of the defendants were said to be seriously ill and the state declined, despite Defence counsel requests, to proceed without all defendants being present. Defence counsel have now also submitted a motion for all to be released, since they have served two years without the State bringing them to trial – this motion is under consideration by the court at present.
The reason for serious illness among prisoners may well be conditions in the jail (which are believed to be atrocious and were described as “trying” by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs’ representative after an earlier visit to Halawa in jail), coupled with punishment beatings which, according to one of Ibrahim’s sisters as reported by a human rights campaigning website, the Dublin youth has also received.
The Department has taken up the Dubliner’s case with the Egyptian authorities and it is almost certainly its intervention that has gained Halawa’s transfer to a better cell. Three Al-Jazeera journalists were sharing that facility after conviction in Egyptian court but all those have now been released and left Egypt. Others, including former President Hosni Mubarak and members of his family have also been released.
Charlie Flanagan, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, stated that he was “disappointed and concerned” at the adjournment, which is diplomatic language for “really pissed off”. He claimed that his department is doing all that they can. Perhaps they are – but is the Government as a whole? Would the threat of expulsion of a few Egyptian diplomats not gain the release of Ibrahim Halawa? Or perhaps the threat of a tourist embargo?
The relatively small numbers at the Dublin rally were probably due to it being called for 3pm on a Friday afternoon, i.e within office working hours. But there may be more to it than that – this case has not been generally pushed in Left and Republican political circles, nor indeed in the liberal human rights sector. Very recently some of Ibrahim’s Dublin Arab community held a protest at the GPO against the Egyptian regime getting ready to streamline its trial and death sentence procedures in order to facilitate the hanging of more political dissidents. It was notable that every single one of those on the protest was Arab in appearance. The word ‘on the street’ is that Ibrahim and members of his family belong to a religiously fundamentalist group. Whether true or not, this does not of course diminish his human rights one iota – but unfortunately it may diminish the enthusiasm of some on the Left to support him.
Amnesty International Ireland was the body that organised the rally. Their website said that they were calling “again” for the release of Ibrahim but it seems that this is the first time they have organised a rally for him in nearly two and a half years.
Generally the states in the West support the current Egyptian regime and the USA very much so. In turn, the Egyptian regime is very pro-Western and its armed forces very dependent on the USA, its main arms supplier. This friendship towards or dependency on the USA has been demonstrated in a number of way over the years and one of the most significant has been its policy towards Gaza.
The besieged Palestinian enclave, which has been called “the biggest concentration camp in the world”, has two land border exits, one of which is controlled by Egypt and the other by Israel. But Egypt has for years, under different governments, been restricting what and how much can go through its Rafah Crossing, more or less in line with Israeli prohibitions or restrictions, which include forbidding cement much in demand to repair the huge damage of Israel’s bombardment to housing, hospitals, schools, roads, bridges, reservoir, sewage treatment facility ….. and fuel for heating, electricity generation …. The resourceful Palestinians dug tunnels under the border wire to circumvent Egyptian restrictions but the Egyptian regime has demolished these in the past and recently flooded them.
It is important for the Irish Left and all democratic people to show solidarity with Ibrahim and his family. It should not be ok for the Egyptian government to behave in the way it does and we should protect those that we are able to protect from them. That ability is strongest in cases where the citizenship of the victim is Irish. The Government needs to up the pressure on the Egyptian authorities and we need to up the pressure on our Government to achieve that. Those republicans, socialists and democrats who are tempted to pick and choose the recipients of their solidarity would do well to reflect on the oft-quoted words of Pastor Martin Niemoller.