An Irish citizen – a minor at the time of arrest – has been held without trial in an Egyptian jail for almost three years. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that we might be more concerned if he fitted more closely our traditional idea of “Irish”, writes Donal O’Keeffe.

Last week, in a prison letter responding to questions from The Times Ireland Edition, Ibrahim Halawa described the torture he has suffered and the violence he has been forced to witness in his almost three years as a prisoner held without trial in Egypt.

“There are many ways I have been mistreated: cursing, beatings, solitary confinement… Cursing is the least [serious] and [most] normal. They curse your father and mother. If you object it turns into a beating. Beating is a general title. I have been beaten with a plastic plumbing bar, slapped, punched, kicked and dragged.

“They torture another prisoner and they make you watch. They bury him in garbage and he isn’t allowed to move. Crucify men. They hold a man’s arm against the kerb and you hear it break when they kick it. A man is tied to a tree with honey all over him for insects to gather on him. A man is hung from a basketball hoop and beaten while hanging in the air. And a lot more.”

Ibrahim Halawa – who has been deemed a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International – is an Irish citizen. He was born in The Coombe in Dublin and lived all his life in Ireland. He speaks Irish and plays GAA. Ibrahim was 17 years old and had just completed his Leaving Cert when he and his family visited relatives in Egypt. (Ibrahim later came to wish he had travelled with friends – as had been his initial plan – to Spain for the summer.)

Being an Irish citizen, Ibrahim Halawa had to pay for a visa to enter Egypt. That’s an important point. An Egyptian national would not have needed a visa.

When Ibrahim and his sisters became involved in a protest against the ousting of Egypt’s democratically-elected president, Mohamed Morsi, they found themselves under fire from security forces and sought sanctuary in the Al Fath mosque.

Egyptian authorities claim that it was the protesters who shot at the security forces. Amnesty International had observers on the ground that day and says this claim is unfounded. Security forces further claim they were shot at from the minaret of the Al Fath mosque. A crucially important piece of information is that when Imbrahim and his sisters were arrested, they were found locked into the inner sanctum of Al Fath. This, according to Amnesty International, is an impossible distance, under hostile gunfire, from the minaret.

The security forces stormed the mosque and during that assault Ibrahim was shot in the hand. In the almost-three years since, his only treatment was given to him by a cellmate, by chance a doctor.

Ibrahim’s sisters were granted bail – apparently because they are women – and they were allowed to leave Egypt. They say their brother was stripped naked and beaten with chains before being charged – along with 493 other men – with murder, attempted murder and illegal protest. Murder and attempted murder are crimes punishable by execution under Egyptian law.

These charges are “a cut-and-paste charge applied to hundreds of other people” according to Amnesty’s Colm O’Gorman. “He is being detained purely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.”

A recurring claim on the internet is that Ibrahim Halawa tore up his Irish passport. Not so, according to Amnesty International. His passport was confiscated when he was arrested. In any case, I could tear up my passport right now and that wouldn’t make me any less Irish. Actually, I confess I can’t tear up my passport right now, as I can’t find it. It’s probably in a drawer. I’m pretty sure I’m still Irish, though, especially seeing as I display two of the most Irish of traits, carelessness and untidiness.

“He’s not Irish” is another claim. Untrue. Ibrahim Halawa is an Irish citizen. What is at issue is that Egypt’s military dictatorship says he is an Egyptian national – because his parents are Egyptian – despite the fact that Ibrahim has never asserted Egyptian nationality. Under Irish law, Ibrahim is an Irish citizen. Again, if there was any truth to Egypt’s claim, they would hardly have charged him for the price of a visa every time he visited his cousins.

Another cry from members of the hard of feeling community is that Ibrahim Halawa is a terrorist. (The military junta which overthrew the democratically-elected government certainly says he’s a terrorist and they’d hardly lie, would they?) He was protesting for democracy. Hardly the actions of a terrorist.

Pale obsessives on the internet claim they have damning video footage proving Ibrahim is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood (which was Egypt’s democratically-elected government) and he wants to establish a Caliphate from the Levant to the Dingle Peninsula. When pressed, of course, they are never able to produce anything.

“The boy is basically not political at all,” an Irish official told The Irish Times last year. “He’s an Irish schoolboy. He likes sport, music. He writes rap music. He speaks with an ordinary Irish accent. Lovely fella.”

But, in truth, none of this matters.

Even if Ibrahim Halawa were in fact guilty of all the things the keyboard warriors claim, so what? Does a person’s entitlement to human rights cease once they have political opinions which differ from the mainstream? Is a person any less Irish because we don’t agree with them? If we can deny the rights of those we don’t like, then how are we in any way more enlightened than the military dictatorships and the religious fanatics we pretend to be better than?

You’d have to wonder at the half-hearted approach of the Irish Government to this case. The Department of Foreign Affairs says it is doing all it can, a claim which Amnesty International says it accepts. However, it should be noted that Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott successfully lobbied President el-Sisi to release their citizens. Where is our own prime minister on this?

An Irish citizen is held without trial in horrific conditions for over 1,000 days, his trial postponed thirteen times and he claims he has been tortured. His legal team says they have no proper access to him and he faces the death sentence if convicted. Is this a case of “Paddy likes to export live cattle to Egypt”? A spokesperson for the Taoiseach last year said the Taoiseach is “across the situation”. Is the Taoiseach across picking up the phone and asking el-Sisi to release an Irish citizen?

And it’s not just Enda. The response of the Irish public has been strangely muted too. It’s hard not to suspect that we might be a bit more exercised if Ibrahim Halawa fitted more closely with our traditional notion of what being Irish means.

Perhaps to Irish eyes, Ibrahim Halawa’s crime is that he’s a bit too Muslim and a bit too brown.

Please, prove me wrong. Here’s a contact list of Oireachtas members. Do what the Taoiseach seems reluctant to do: pick up the phone.

  • An Gíogóir

    I haven’t seen any significant person claim that he is a “terrorist” or that he “tore up his passport” or the various other issues that Donal brings up.
    What is relevant and which Donal ignores is his family connections to the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the most likely reason he is still being held.
    As to him being non-political. It is very strange for him and his sisters to actually speak at rallies in Egypt so. The Muslim Brotherhood, of which his father is a member and his family haven’t disavowed is an international Islamist organisation.
    He has little or no public sympathy because of his (and his family’s) Islamist connections, not because of the colour of his skin.

    • PJ

      Subjective commentary and very weak grounds to deny an Irish citizen their liberty and human rights. Let there be no justification for this injustice and no uncertainty about the lack of appropriate intervention from our so called leaders!

      • Danmir

        He’s more Irish than some of the commenters on here. Deny someone their rights as citizen of country, next step lose your own.

        • realpresence

          Your right, he probably is more Irish than most people never mind commentators here! He speaks Irish, which is more than 80% of the population, at least! and he was born here, so he is absolutely Irish…so what was he doing traveling to a country in revolution? what were his motives? I don’t envy the poor lad, 3 years of torture, and i do hope he is released asap but what was he thinking!!

          • Gregfortruth

            Are you kidding… Muslims allegiances… Muslims such as him rather.. their first allegiances are to Islam. He may play Gaelic but I guarantee you 100%.. he doesn’t see himself as irish. And his father had strong allegiances with the Muslim brotherhood. Go and research them. It’s funny… people go pin about Trump like he’s Hitler and yet support and tolerate the proliferation of the Muslim religion in this country… irony anyone?

          • realpresence

            I agree with you about Trump, but from a purely geographical pov the guy is Irish, whether he see’s himself as irish is another story! in his current predicament it suits him to be.

          • Gregfortruth

            I think you said it right… he’s Irish right now because it suits him. Sure black people in America still can’t call themselves American after all these years… they still have to throw in”Afro”. Does anyone think that the Halawas are EVER going to see themselves as Irish? Not a hope. No more than if I moved to Iran with my Irish wife and had threevkids who were born there would see themselves as Iranian. Islam and the West will never meet… ever.

          • Hibernia sugit

            so now it is your job to determine the quality of being irish?, the beauty of nationality is that no one is considered more irish or less irish than anyone else, you are simply just irish. Last time I checked irishness is determined by law not by you. There are staunch ulster protestant unionists who can speak Irish fluently and there are some very fervent nationalists who cant speak irish at all. Moreover, being born here does not guarantee Irishness since the amendment to the constitution removing jus soli from naturalisation laws.

          • realpresence

            No it’s not my job, it was an observation! jackass!!

          • Hibernia sugit

            Very erudite response. is Mister jackass. Thanks for your invaluable contribution.

          • realpresence

            Thank you for the compliment. When i call someone Mr it expresses respect for said person, so simply “jackass” it shall remain!

          • Hibernia sugit

            You are most welcome, I was educated to be kind to the feebleminded.

    • 1 He was a minor
      2 He’s an Irish citizen
      3 Humiliation and torture – what the f?!
      4 No trial, no respect of human rights ??

      • Colm Donnellan

        👍👍 well said Francois.

      • Joshua Peter Markham

        There are Irish citizens and then there are Irish citizens and this guy is the former. When Sinn Fein was worthy of the name, one point in time, being, when the decision was made for big houses to go up and their proprietors having been identified as of dubious loyalty and a cancer in Ireland’s bones, conversations such as this would have been unthinkable. But today our chattering classes are decadent and useful idiots to Islam. They would argue the putative “rights” of the metasticising cancer. Former Irish AG Peter Sutherland advocates in The House Of Lords (wtf) that our cultural homogeneity must be undermined, and and our politicians are in thrall to efete spivs in Brussels and the filthy money of George Soros-destroyer of nations, billionaire enabler of false flag gas-genocide in Syria and foreskin to eyelid replacement surgery in Bilderberg and Foxrock!

      • Hibernia sugit

        1) minors can commit legal infractions and are punished for it
        2) he was alleged to have committed a crime in a third country, irish nationality is irrelevant to violating laws of that country and offers no immunity
        3) it is alleged, believe it or not, not everything someone says is true
        4) There was a trial and he was acquitted,

    • Colm Donnellan

      His father us a member of the Muslim Brotherhood! So what? The Muslim Brotherhood were at one point the democratically elected government of any event, it’s neither or there, he is an Irish citizen and, as a minor at the time if his arrest, should be a top priority for our foreign department..the question is, what isn’t he? Not which ideology his father supports.

      • Minz

        Yeah the Nazis were elected into Government too! How well that turned out. The Muslim Brotherhood’s goal is to turn the world into an Islamist empire and to impose strict shariah law throughout. Don’t let you whining lefty thoughts fool you otherwise. He should not have gone to a country that was in the middle of a revolution. You reap what you sow. Now we have to listen to all the “poor him” “oh help please” nonsense…

        • Vanis

          Minz! Finally someone with a clear and sober view! You are ABSOLUTELY right! He’s not Irish, he’s a muslim in a first place and now he’s whining like a b*tch, pretending to love this country, etc…He despites all democratic values and puts islam onto a first place just like his parent and every other practising muslim. Only if you asked him now, if he feels more Irish or a muslim, he’d have answered Irish of course, ’cause he is allowed to lie in the name of Islam to deceive the kaffirs – us. Muslim brotherhood is a terrorist organisation. Save him and he will stab you in your back. Don’t be naive, people! Islam is not religion, it’s pure evil, political doctrine, masquerading as faith.

          • Ciara Ní Mhurchú

            Plenty of Irish people are Muslims! You make it sound like Irish people are all catholic.

        • Michael Kitching

          Godwin’s Law is absolute!

          • Hibernia sugit

            tulips law, or anyone who mentions Godwin’s law whenever Nazis are mentioned

          • Michael Kitching


      • Joshua Peter Markham

        “So what!” That’s always been the same thing as a good argument. Just as it’s a good argument if I said that Ireland’s experience with militant brotherhoods and religious zealots, Ireland’s experiences with discriminatory voting qualifications which served said zealots, Ireland’s experiences with young Lord Muck Defenders of another land’s faith and Ireland’s insistence that Irish sons and daughters of the soil, not supercilious foreigners, know what’s best for Ireland- are all good reasons to treat another country, Egypt in this case as a feckless barrow-boy when he behaves like one.

        • Joshua Peter Markham

          Colm, I’m an Aussie, engaged to a relation of both Saint Oliver and Joseph Plunkett and it is my carefully considered opinion that useful idiots to Islam such as you and the contemporary Sinn Fein are not worth the steam on a cold day, from the 1916 generation’s shite.

  • korean woman

    Dear Amnesty International, What about Eanna O’Cochlain an Irish citizen professional nurse imprisoned by the most brutal regime in the Philippines and sentenced to 14 years for 0.3 gm of marijuana that was planted on him. you lepracaun politicos will not stand up for him

    • Michael Kitching

      Here’s an idea, why not ask them directly instead on a comment board? Just because it isn’t in the news does not mean they aren’t doing anything

  • Brian b

    Liberal bull, if he had so little to do with Egypt what was he doing there, if he was so Irish what did he care what happens in Egypt? Then there’s the question of his father being a radical .lock him up the filthy terrorist.

  • Hibernia sugit

    you should you consider writing for CNN because what you wrote is laughably inappropriate. The problem with people like you is that you are unaware of your own racism. People like you seek out racial issues when they aren’t even present. There are many Irish people abroad who have suffered injustice in some form or not, mostly white who never get a column inch. The irony is your woeful piece demonstrates your own inherent racism because you make a story into one that isn’t present. There are a host of Irish people who are non white who are eulogised by white Irish, including footballers, musicians etc. The sad reality is that you personify the real lack of moral integrity that exists within journalism seeking to cause division when non exists. Shameful ignorant piece of gutter journalism at its finest. God help us all if you are the future of journalism in the country.