The Taoiseach needs to feel in his heart the terror of this young man and the pain of this family and demand his return. He needs to speak to someone as close as possible to the Egyptian President Abdel Fatteh el Si-Si and make it plain that this Irish boy must come home.
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan and the Department of Foreign Affairs tell us repeatedly that they are doing everything they can to secure the release of this Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience. Last weekend when Ibrahim’s trial was postponed yet again, this time until April 26, we were told that the Irish authorities were “in sustained and direct contact with the Egyptian authorities” and that “embassy officials, including the ambassador, have visited (Ibrahim) on more than 30 occasions”.
But “embassy officials” are not enough. We need the top brass and the top of the top brass is Enda.
It is impossible not to suspect that Falawa is still in jail while prisoners such as the Al-Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, from Australia, Mohamed Fahmy (from Canada of Egyptian origin) and Egyptian Baher Mohamed have been released pending retrial because our Government is not making a big enough stink. What follows from that is that they are getting away with it because the Irish people don’t care enough, either.
As one campaigner expressed it to me, “The Irish people have not taken Ibrahim into their hearts”. There is not widespread concern among our citizens for this young man as there would be if his name were, say, Brian Keenan. Prior to Keenan’s release Taoiseach Charles Haughey was, it seems, making feverish efforts at the highest level. The record shows the Government making the most of opportunities such as UN meetings to get its then friends, including Iran, to further their case.
Halawa has been in jail for more than 600 days now and the prognosis for his case has got worse and worse. Last weekend he was moved to what his sister Fatima called the “Death Penalty Cell”.
We are at five minutes to midnight. His other sister, Somaia, said at the weekend that all she could hear on a recorded phone message was “him screaming and saying, “mamma, come and save me. They’re killing me, they’re torturing me.”
Imagine for a moment that you were that “mamma” and you knew you couldn’t save your son. Imagine the desperation you would feel.
It’s that level of imaginative empathy that we need from our Government in this case. The official approach we’ve been taking hasn’t worked. We urgently need to be creative. Enlist the support of our more powerful friends around the world, including the US, the EU and the UK. Enlist the help of international rock stars and movie stars and media personalities.
This is an open and shut case. The charges of “murder, attempted murder and participating in an illegal protest” are ludicrous. As Amnesty’s Colm O’Gorman said, “There is absolutely no evidence that connects him to the charges. It was a cut and paste charge applied to hundreds of other people. He was detained purely for exercising his freedom of expression.”
Former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter made a striking plea for Ibrahim when he appeared with the Halawa sisters on The Late Late Show a few weeks ago. He pictured the mass trial Ibrahim will likely face sitting in a cage with the other prisoners in the courtroom and said that “no individual’s human rights and civil rights can be protected” in those circumstances.
One campaigner for Halawa told me she had been asked by a college-educated friend why she was working on behalf of an ISIS volunteer. Ibrahim Halawa was protesting for democracy when he was arrested. He was protesting with his sisters against the deposition of the democratically elected leader, Mohammed Morsi, by the forces of el Si-Si. Mohammed Morsi is the leader of a party called the Muslim Brotherhood but the word “Muslim” in its name does not automatically make a party a terrorist organisation. Morsi was repressive when he was in power and I wouldn’t vote for him myself but the fact remains that the Egyptian people did.
The Halawa sisters have compared the protest in which they and their brother engaged to the water charge protests. But like them or hate them, at least the water charges were brought in by a democratically elected government. The comparison would be more direct with Fine Gael supporters sheltering in a church after protesting in favour of democracy if water charge protests had deposed the Coalition in a bloody coup.
And yet this case has not set the Irish people alight. And it gets worse. The horrible truth is that when Ibrahim Halawa is described as a “Dubliner” in the media the underbelly of the internet swells with disgusting racist comments. Many have had to be edited out on some platforms, including the journal.ie and the Amnesty International Facebook page. Posts which have been left up on other pages travel the whole range of insults from “gobshite” to “terrorist” and one post announces that our instruction to Muslims in this country should be, “You must adapt and obey or leave.”
Ironically this boy’s best chance of going free is by proving he is Irish and should be extradited home like Australian Peter Greste. The Egyptian authorities insist he is Egyptian because his father is Egyptian. Quite why he had to get a visa to enter the country for a holiday with his sisters in 2013 — which included a sight-seeing trip to the pyramids — is a question the Egyptians aren’t answering.
It is Enda Kenny who must make the case that Ibrahim is an innocent Irishman. If cajoling is getting him nowhere he must make plain that normal relations with this country will cease if Halawa is mistreated.
WE MAY export a huge amount of food to Egypt in trade which is set to boom with the ending of milk quotas and the lifting of the ban on the export of live cattle. But this Holy Thursday those 30 pieces of silver should not enter our minds. We are a small country but we could make a big stink if we tried.
If anything happens to Halawa there will always be the strong suspicion that it happened because the Irish people did not fight for him as one of their own. We will not have blood our hands but we will have it on our consciences.
Enda Kenny must realise that as our leader he will be held responsible. I sincerely hope that realisation scares him into action.