On the morning of Tuesday, October 24th, Ibrahim Halawa arrived into Dublin airport, stepping onto Irish soil for the first time in over four years. His return is a momentous occasion, as the young man has been involved in a stressful and lengthy legal battle since 2013. Crowds of people awaited his arrival, including government officials and the Halawa family.
Ibrahim Halawa was born and raised in Dublin, and is a son of the most senior Muslim cleric in the Republic of Ireland. His father, Sheikh Hussein Halawa, is the imam of Ireland’s largest mosque in the Dublin suburb of Clonskeagh. Hussein Halawa and his wife are both originally from Egypt, but they moved their young family to Dublin a year before Ibrahim was born.
Ibrahim was arrested in 2013 whilst visiting family with his sisters. The then-teenager became caught up in protests that took place in Cairo against the military coup, and was arrested along with his three sisters – Omaima, Somaia and Fatima. Three months after the arrest, his sisters were released on bail, leaving Ibrahim alone in the Egyptian prison. Aged only 17 at the time of his arrest, Ibrahim would spend the next four years awaiting trial.
Ibrahim and his three sisters had landed in Egypt in June that year. Since they had arrived, the removal of the elected president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, had set off a cycle of violent clashes between the newly installed government and the deposed leader’s supporters. The siblings engaged in the protests, taking part in demonstrations across Cairo. The children’s father, Sheikh Hussein Halawa, watched the events unfolding on the news. After gaining contact, he advised his children to seek shelter in a nearby mosque. Nosayba Halawa, the eldest of the seven siblings, was also watching the events here in Ireland. She contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs, and a notice was passed to Seán Norton – the Irish consul in Egypt at the time.
Isolde Moylan, Ireland’s ambassador to Egypt during this period, attempted to arrange safe passage out of the mosque – which had become surrounded – for the four siblings. The situation was too dangerous however, and the Halawas remained in the mosque for seventeen hours before their arrest.
Ibrahim was initially brought to a detention centre adjacent to the Tora prison – the first of many overcrowded, unsanitary centres he would spend time in. His sisters spent the next three months in a women’s jail before they were released home, (after being granted bail). Later, Ibrahim was transferred to a military prison, where conditions were said to be appalling. Irish authorities intervened, and the young man was sent to a low-security prison for nine months. In all this time, his trial had not been set. Finally, in August 2014, Ibrahim was brought to Tora prison to await his trial. Members of the extended family in Egypt who visited Ibrahim during this time said that the conditions at Tora were appalling – “He was one of 15 people in a room. August. It was blazing heat. No air conditioning. No beds. The toilets were blocked and stinking,” says one visitor.
Halawa would go on to spend his 18th birthday in jail, with no prospect of release. The Egyptian court was conducting a mass trial – of which Ibrahim would be involved – thus, due to the number of defendants, the young man was kept waiting. Though the Irish government and his family worked non-stop to get him released, his trial was postponed 28 times over the course of four years.
The trial finally got underway in August of this year, and on September 18th, Ibrahim Halawa was acquitted on all charges he faced – after spending four harrowing years away from his family. His sisters were tried in absentia, and also had all charges acquitted. Upon arriving home, the young man, now aged 21, said ‘It still feels like a dream….. a dream come true’.
Now that he has returned home, Ibrahim will spend some much-needed time with his family, resting and recovering. He then hopes to attend university, and to work to help other wrongly incarcerated prisoners around the world to receive justice. His story is one of hardship and strife, and will no doubt be forever engraved in the memories of his family.
Ibrahim and the Halawa family have expressed their sincerest gratitude towards the current Irish government and embassy team in Egypt. Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney confirmed on Tuesday that Ibrahim Halawa had returned to Ireland and been reunited with his family. Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday, the Minister went on to say that the Department of Foreign Affairs had spent more time on Ibrahim Halawa’s case than on any other in consular history.
Halawa has made some returns to public life in Ireland, appearing on last week’s episode of the Late Late Show, also restarting his Twitter account. You can follow Ibrahim on @ibrahimhalawa13.