The Irish-Egyptian siblings being held in Egypt may have been on the security forces’ watch list after they addressed hundreds of thousands of protesters several weeks ago.
The three Halawa sisters and their brother, all from Dublin, spoke to the crowd at Rabaa Square in Cairo, which was a focal point for supporters of ousted Egypt president Mohamed Morsi before the crackdown on demonstrations began.
Omaima Halawa, 21, her sisters, Fatima, 23, and Soumaia, 27, and their brother, Ibrihim, 17, who are Irish citizens, spoke against the backdrop of an Egyptians Abroad for Democracy banner.
Speaking in succession for more than 10 minutes, they introduced themselves as being from Ireland, led the massive crowd in chants and received enthusiastic responses for their promise not to let the West forget the protesters.
Rabaa Square was the location of a 40-day sit-in by Morsi supporters who at times numbered 1m before the military moved in with bulldozers, tear gas, and gunfire last week in an operation in which an estimated 120 protestors died.
In Dublin yesterday, Nosayba Halawa, the older sister of the siblings, said she was concerned about the authorities’ attitude to her sisters and brother because of their public appearances.
“I don’t know how they think about them [but] they are not the leaders [of the demonstrations], said Ms Halawa. “They know who the leaders are, they know very well who organised them.”
She said she was proud but surprised to see her siblings take the stage. “Ibrihim called me straightaway and said ‘we are going to speak to the world to prove that it’s a peaceful demonstration here’.
“I was amazed to see them in front of 1m people because when Omaima had to make a presentation in her college to just a few people she was so nervous and, before Fatima graduated, she made a presentation and she said ‘I don’t want to do it’.”
There was relief for the a family yesterday after the Irish embassy in Cairo said one of its officials had with the siblings in a detention centre for the first time since they were arrested after the break-up of a demonstration near the al-Fath Mosque last Friday.
Minister of state at the Department of Foreign Affairs Joe Costello said: “We are happy to be able to report that they are in good spirits and they are fine physically.”
He said the official passed on clothes and medication and had received assurances that Ibrihim would get attention for a hand wound.
Mr Costello described the meeting as a “real breakthrough” after three days of uncertainty over the whereabouts and condition of the four, but he said it was not yet clear if they would face charges.
The news that the siblings had been found was greeted with delight by friends and supporters who protested outside the Egyptian embassy in Dublin for a third day. The protest moved briefly to the Department of Foreign Affairs where Osaid Abed, 18, said the gatherings would continue daily until the Halawas were safely back home.
“I grew up with Ibrihim,” said Mr Abed. “He is like a brother to me. He is a brother to me. His life is in danger in Egypt and we want everything possible done to get him home.”
Ms Halawa said that when her siblings, who were holidaying with relatives, came home, they would never return to Egypt.
“Even if they were not prohibited from going there, they [security forces] will meet them in the airport and put them in jail,” she said.
“My father said two days ago ‘I can’t stand this any more, I am going to Egypt’, but I said ‘you will be put in jail — how are you going to help them from jail?’.”
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