Government must fight for Irishman - Incarceration of Ibrahim Halawa

Irishman Ibrahim Halawa has had his trial postponed for the 16th time in Egypt. In August 2013, the now 20-year-old student was arrested in a Cairo mosque during demonstrations against the ousting of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.
Government must fight for Irishman - Incarceration of Ibrahim Halawa

His continued detention without trial is, first and foremost, intolerable for him and his family. But it is also intolerable for Ireland and for all Irish citizens, who must wonder what protections or government assistance any of us can rely on when travelling to unstable countries, particularly ones that defy international norms of behaviour.

For the past three years, the Government has patiently sought to exert pressure on the authorities in Egypt to have him returned to Ireland, the country of his birth and his citizenship.

Since his appointment in July 2014, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has been acutely aware of Mr Halawa’s plight, as was his predecessor Eamon Gilmore.

The Government’s approach to the young man’s arrest and detention has been low-key, providing consular assistance to him and ensuring that representatives from the Irish Embassy in Cairo have been present at his court hearings.

Mr Flanagan has been in contact with Egyptian counterpart and, to bolster this effort, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has written to Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at least twice about Mr Halawa’s plight.

This softly, softly approach has also included avoiding public condemnation of the Egyptian prison system, despite the inhumane conditions suffered by Mr Halawa and his fellow inmates.

Parliamentarians both at national and EU level have also made representations, so nobody can rightly say that effort has not been made on Mr Halawa’s behalf.

But the reality is that it is not working. The chosen tactic of quiet diplomacy over an all-out public attack on Egypt’s legal system has simply not borne fruit.

Contrast that with the approach taken by the Australian authorities when one of their citizens was incarcerated in similar circumstances.

Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, began what she later described as a “very concerted campaign of advocacy” to secure the release of journalist Peter Greste. This involved high-level diplomatic contacts with the US, the EU, and the UN, as well as Middle East countries. It was a robust, highly public, and sustained campaign which proved ultimately successful.

The Government must change tack and adopt a far more assertive approach to securing Mr Halawa’s release. We may be a small country but we have big friends and a big voice when we choose to exercise it on the international stage.

It is time to take for the Government to take the gloves off, be inspired by fighters such as Conor McGregor and demand that our citizens be treated fairly wherever they happen to be.

Ibrahim Halawa is a child of Ireland. Let us show him that, in accordance with the 1916 Proclamation, we cherish him.

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