Tuesday 22 October 2019

Internet trolls target family of jailed Ibrahim

Somaia Halawa
Somaia Halawa

Joanna Kiernan

The family of an Irish student jailed in Egypt without charge for over a year has hit out at internet trolls who accuse them of being Muslim extremists.

Ibrahim Halawa (18), the son of Sheikh Hussein Halawa, Imam of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh and Ireland's most senior Muslim cleric, has now spent almost 13 months locked up in a Cairo jail. The Halawa family has received huge support from relatives, friends and the wider Irish community throughout his ordeal.

However, Sheikh Halawa and his family have been sidelined by some of the Irish- Egyptian community here, including close friends, since Ibrahim's arrest and the Imam is no longer welcomed by the Egyptian Embassy in Dublin, as he once was.

The Halawa family also say that they have had to cope with a number of accusations being levelled at them on social media pages set up to raise awareness of Ibrahim's plight.

"There is one person in particular that has constantly been commenting and saying that we are all Muslim Brotherhood and that Ibrahim deserves to be in jail," his sister Somaia told the Sunday Independent. "I really don't know why people would say things like that when they don't know what they are talking about.

"How dare they talk about something they don't even know. If, for example, my dad was Muslim Brotherhood, even though he is not, why would you blame Ibrahim for it?" Somaia added. "It's so painful. They have no idea what we are going through as a family. They don't know what Ibrahim is going through."

The Halawa siblings were arrested at the Al-Fatah Mosque in Cairo's Ramses Square on August 17 last year after the mosque was stormed by the Egyptian police and the occupants were arrested. Ibrahim's sisters - Somaia (29), Fatima (23) and Omaima (21) were released on bail last November and returned to Ireland. However, Ibrahim, who was just 17 when he was arrested, has had his detention period extended a number of times.

According to Somaia, a number of online critics have cited a YouTube video - which shows the siblings addressing a protest rally in Cairo weeks before, holding a banner with the words 'Egyptians Abroad for Democracy' emblazoned on it - as evidence they travelled to the region specifically to become involved in the protests. However, Somaia said all four siblings were in Egypt long before President Morsi was removed from office.

"I never said I didn't go to these protests, I have always mentioned that I did go to Rabaa, so I don't know what these people really want to prove," Somaia said. "I did go to Rabaa when Morsi was removed, but some people want to say that everyone there was just Muslim Brotherhood. These are not educated people."

When Mohammed Morsi, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, won Egypt's presidential election in June 2012, tens of thousands of people flocked to Tahir Square to celebrate Egypt's first democratically-elected president. However, he was soon accused of failing to deliver on his promises during a turbulent first year in office, which saw public opposition grow and eventually led to his removal by the military. The Muslim Brotherhood, which formally renounced violence in the 1970s, was subsequently outlawed and the Egyptian authorities have now branded it a terrorist group.

"It wasn't as if we heard the Muslim Brotherhood are organising a protest and went. It was that we heard people who are supporting Morsi are protesting on this date, so we went out," Somaia told the Sunday Independent. "We didn't choose to go out to a dangerous place, it just happened while we were there," Somaia added. "Ibrahim was in Egypt before Morsi was removed. Even before that, people were protesting every Friday and we did not protest. Ibrahim was going out with his friends and visiting the pyramids. He is not political at all."

The Halawas insist they only began to attend protests in Cairo after security officials began killing unarmed and peaceful pro-Morsi protestors.

Department of Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan continues to raise Ibrahim's case with his Egyptian counterpart. He recently expressed hope that "the charges against Ibrahim will be reviewed and that he will be released and permitted to return home".

Sunday Independent

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