DISCLAIMER: The purpose of this article is only to clearly lay out the facts surrounding the Halawa case and to criticise its coverage by the Irish media. Every important piece of information I have stated is numbered and these refer to sources which may be found at the end of the article. If any of my source material is wrong or misleading please inform me and I will gladly respond or correct it.
At the time of writing Ibrahim Halawa has been released from jail and will likely be returned back to Ireland in the coming days. On September 18th he was acquitted of all charges by the Egyptian courts after having spent some four years in jail without trial. The long list of charges included murder, arson, belonging to an armed gang, possession of arms and explosives, violence against police and desecration of the Al-Fatah Mosque (1,2). The issue of his detainment has been one of long-standing public concern and Irish politicians and diplomats have spent some 20,000 consular hours and exhausted all diplomatic options to ensure his release.
According to the Irish Times, Ibrahim Halawa was an “ordinary Irish schoolboy” on summer holiday with his sisters in Cairo. They were arrested after taking refuge in the Al-Fatah mosque during violent clashes between supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi and security forces (3,4). It is my opinion that this portrayal of events is uninformed at best and that the Irish public deserve to know the full story.
The full story begins in the middle of the Arab Spring in Cairo, Egypt, on July 3rd 2013. The Egyptian military, led by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, executed a coup d’état and overthrew the elected president Mohamed Morsi, with popular support from Coptic Christians, liberals and moderate Muslims. The military placed Morsi and his entire presidential team under house arrest in the Presidential Republican Guards Club (5). This led to mass demonstrations by pro-Morsi Egyptians and subsequent police crackdowns by the military regime in which hundreds were killed. One such crackdown was at the Republican Guard headquarters where at least 51 protesters and 3 military officials were killed. (6)
Morsi is a leading figure in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, an international Islamist organisation founded and based in Egypt (7). According to the Wall Street Journal, their motto is “Allah is our objective; the Prophet is our leader; the Quran is our law; Jihad is our way; dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope” (8). In December 2013, the unelected Egyptian government designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group and accused it of carrying out a suicide bombing on a police station that killed 16 people. (9)
It was in the midst of the summer demonstrations that we find Ibrahim Halawa. He, along with his sisters Somaia and Omaima, may be seen in a video making speeches on behalf of ‘Egyptians Abroad For Democracy’ to a crowd of 10,000 pro-Morsi Muslim Brotherhood supporters. He appears at 5:35 in the following video addressing the crowd in Arabic, and may be heard clearly stating his name and that he is from Ireland. Here is a translated excerpt from his speech (10,11):
“My name is Ebraheem Halawa and I am from Ireland. I am in the first year at University and I am here since one month ago. I came directly from Ireland to Rabaa and I was there at the Republican Guard massacre and I got two birdshot wounds, and it did not stop me. Your standing here makes me stay with you. […] I am going to give you a little word here, I am going to open it the way President Morsi used to do. “Oh great Egyptian people!” You standing here for 35 days on asphalt although you are under war, threats, live fire, your standing is a life for those ones who died.”
Why was this video not more widely reported on? And how does an ordinary Irish schoolboy on summer holiday suddenly find himself addressing a crowd of that magnitude and political persuasion? The answer may be because he is the son of Sheikh Halawa, the imam at Ireland’s largest mosque in Clonskeagh. Sheikh is also the Secretary General of the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR), (12) and reportedly has connections to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Sheikh Halawa works under Yusuf al-Qaradawi at the Dublin-based ECFR (13). During a BBC interview Al-Qaradawi stated that Palestinian suicide attacks on Israelis were “martyrdom in the name of God” and because of this has since been banned from entry into the UK (14). Al-Qaradawi happens to be a prominent intellectual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. (15)
Sheikh Halawa is also reported by Norwegian newspaper VG to have said “But for those who want to push others to become gay, Sharia says it’s a death penalty” (16). Although I vehemently disagree with this view and the one above, I equally believe in their right to say them, unlike the UK government. I wonder, if a similar view was expressed by the leader of the largest Catholic church here, would the media’s reaction be any different? And why does the Irish media, unlike their Norwegian counterparts, choose not to communicate any such views to the Irish public? Is our Taoiseach Leo Varadkar aware of his views?
Sheikh Halawa’s connections to the Muslim Brotherhood are also mentioned in a US diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks and featured on RTÉ’s Primetime. The cable states: “It is doubtful that [Halawa], Saleem, or others suspected of MB involvement operate independently of some informal conservative Islamic or MB hierarchy” (17,18). Furthermore, the Egyptian ambassador to Ireland Soha Gehndi has stated: “The whole family is part of the Muslim Brotherhood, whether they deny it or not” (19). His family denies any such links, although his sister Nosayba states: “The Brotherhood is a political group like any political group” and “My brother Ibrahim didn’t know anything about the Brotherhood until he went to Egypt. He has learned more about it in prison than he learned his whole life.” (19)
If the father’s connections to the Muslim Brotherhood are true, then it would explain how his children were able to speak in front of crowds of thousands in Cairo. This would also explain why in 2014 the father was offered a deal from the Egyptian government for the release of his daughters. In return he had to publicly recognise the legitimacy of their coup. He refused (12). One may understand the extreme difficulty in making such a decision, but would Ibrahim’s incarceration have been shortened if his father had to given into their demands? The Irish media do not seem interested in the political dimension of Ibrahim’s detention.
Going back to events in Cairo, the next video evidence of Ibrahim is in the Al-Fateh mosque (20). The mosque had supposedly been surrounded by security forces and Ibrahim and his sisters were trapped inside. In the video he says:
“I came back from my country – the country I live in, to come back here and stay here and stay with my family here because this is my country. […] Everyone is willing to give themselves until the last bullet. This is Allah’s. It’s become to a point we are, we are Allah’s, willing, to give our lives for any, any price because this is now an Islamic matter.”
The video raises the awkward question of whether Ibrahim considers Egypt or Ireland to be his country and does he consider Ireland to be just the country he lives in? And is Ibrahim willing to give his life for his political or religious beliefs? If so, what might these beliefs be? Will the Irish media be prepared to ask him these important questions once he is back in Ireland, say on the Late Late Show?
This issue of nationality is made more problematic by the fact that Ibrahim campaigned on behalf of “Egyptians Abroad for Democracy”. In doing so he presents himself as being an Egyptian living abroad in Ireland, and not as primarily Irish or European, despite being born in Dublin and having an Irish passport. Ibrahim does hold dual nationality and it is commonplace for a strong sense of national identity to be preserved in the households of recent immigrants, regardless of formal residency or citizenship. This may explain why Ibrahim portrays himself as Egyptian and feels strongly about Egyptian politics. Why then does the Irish media ignore these facts and continue to portray him as exclusively or predominantly Irish?
Why was the video in the mosque not widely reported or shown, despite some journalists knowing about it and quoting from it? (21,22) I think the reason is because if the full details of the story were made known to the public it would have seriously impacted journalists’ ability to insinuate that the Irish people were racist for not sympathising with him. (23, 24)
Now why would the Irish media want to demonstrate how racist the Irish people are? In my opinion it is because they as individuals would rather not pass up a golden opportunity to preach from the perceived moral high ground, rather than do actual journalistic research and report the complicated truth. That would only serve to disrupt their simple narrative. This vacuous virtue signalling provides them with external validation from other like-minded people, especially on social media, and they feel as if they have done something good. But have they in fact betrayed the public’s trust?
The issue of trust is a delicate one. Once broken it proves extremely difficult to rebuild. The Irish media have a burden of responsibility to report the truth to the Irish people. If they fail in this regard then we may find ourselves living in a world where reality is distorted by those with interests separate from our own.
This is why my article is written with references to all my sources. This is known as open-source journalism and differs from the traditional form because it allows readers to see all the evidence for themselves and come up with their own conclusion. For those who believe they have been deceived by this story and care deeply about the truth, the only solution is to find and build an alternative platform; one that is based upon facts, evidence and commitment to the public good.
I would like to sincerely thank Mark Humphrys, a lecturer at DCU, for his meticulous documentation of the Halawa case, without which this article would simply not have been possible. This is not an endorsement of all the views expressed on his website and he has not been asked to approve of this article. For those who wish to know more about the Halawa case they can visit his website here: http://markhumphrys.com/halawa.html