Egypt will return Ibrahim Halawa after trial, TDs told

President set to ‘exercise his legal authority for clemency as soon as sentence passed’

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has said he will intervene to ensure that Ibrahim Halawa is released and returned to Ireland when his trial concludes, according to TDs who met the head of state in Cairo on Wednesday.

The case of Mr Halawa, a 21-year-old Dublin man who has been in prison awaiting trial for 3½ years, was the focus of a 45-minute meeting between Mr Sisi and the eight-member Dáil delegation.

Mr Halawa, from Firhouse in Dublin, has been in prison since August 2013, when he was arrested at the Al Fateh grand mosque in Cairo during protests against the ousting of then president Mohamed Morsi. He and 493 others have been put on mass trial, but the proceedings have been repeatedly adjourned and no evidence has yet been heard.

Speaking after the meeting, two TDs from the cross-party delegation said Mr Sisi gave a commitment to intervene to secure Mr Halawa’s release and return to Ireland once a verdict was handed down. This echoes the Egyptian position as indicated privately to Government Ministers and officials.


Mr Sisi repeated the position that he cannot intervene in the case while the judicial process is ongoing. This has been challenged by Mr Halawa's lawyers and human rights organisations, who point to the fact that others were released while their trials were in train. Late last year, 82 students awaiting trial in Egypt were granted presidential pardons.

"He said if he could do it today, he would do it," said Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin, who attended the meeting with Mr Sisi. "He said he would have done that the first day he was contacted by the Irish head of government, but that under the separation of powers that wasn't possible.

“He made it clear to us that he would exercise his legal authority for clemency as soon as a sentence was passed. In fact he said it would happen before we knew it.”

Mr Howlin said he asked Mr Sisi about the pardons given to 82 other students but not to Mr Halawa last year. “It wasn’t specifically answered. He returned to the point that he had no legal instrument available to him until the judiciary had concluded their work,” Mr Howlin said.

In his account of the meeting, Eoin Ó Broin of Sinn Féin, who was also in attendance, said the delegation urged Mr Sisi to use his powers under a power known as presidential decree 140 to release Mr Halawa and return him to Ireland. “If he was unwilling to do this, we urged him to ensure that Ibrahim would be on the youth amnesty list which we understand is currently being compiled,” Mr Ó Broin said.

“President Sisi said that while he was not willing to intervene before the trial concluded, at that stage he would ensure Ibrahim’s safe and speedy return to Ireland.”

Solitary confinement

On Tuesday, the Dáil delegation had a 90-minute meeting with Mr Halawa at Wadi el Natrun prison in Cairo. He told the TDs he had been beaten, dragged and on occasion put in solitary confinement for complaining about his conditions. He said that at times he refused food out of a sense of desperation.

The delegation has also met Egyptian ministers, the speaker of parliament, the chairs of parliamentary committees and the deputy director general of homeland security. The TDs said senior figures in the Egyptian administration were left in no doubt as to the importance Ireland attached to the Halawa case.

It was widely understood that Mr Halawa’s release and return to Ireland “would mend a bone of serious contention and allow for the normalisation of relationships, which they are anxious to foster”, said Mr Howlin.

The other TDs in the delegation are Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl; Fianna Fáil foreign affairs spokesman Darragh O'Brien; Green Party leader Eamon Ryan; Paul Murphy of the Anti-Austerity Alliance; Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy; and Independent TDNoel Grealish.

Mr Halawa’s mass trial is scheduled to return to court on January 17th – the 18th court date in 3½ years. At the last hearing, in December, Mr Halawa personally addressed the three judges, protesting his innocence and asking to be returned home to Ireland.

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic is the Editor of The Irish Times