‘I can’t wait to see my friend, neighbour and lifelong brother Ibrahim’

Friends and public overjoyed at Ibrahim Halawa’s imminent return to Dublin

Ibrahim Halawa's sister Fatima was "overwhelmed with joy" following her brother's acquittal after spending over four years in an Egyptian prison. Video: Patsy McGarry

 

Ibrahim Halawa’s friends, teachers and community members have described the “joy and relief” they felt at the news of his acquittal.

Pete Moloney, one of Ibrahim’s friends since secondary school, said he was at the gym when he got a text from his father informing him of the acquittal.

“I couldn’t even understand English at first,” he said, describing how it took him a while before he processed the meaning of acquittal. “I was over the moon. A million emotions all at once, mostly joy.”

He said they tried to exchange letters over the years, but that got increasingly difficult when Ibrahim was moved to a different prison.

Codie Preston, Ibrahim’s secondary school teacher, said he was “delighted and relieved”. He said there was always a chance that he would be unfairly convicted, so the acquittal was “fantastic, even though it took four years”.

Over the past three years, Lorraine Smyth had been travelling from Wexford to Dublin to attend protests or demonstrations organised for Ibrahim.

She said Ibrahim’s case really stood out to her because there had only been a 12-day difference between her son’s birthday and Ibrahim’s. “I don’t think people realised he was born in the Coombe,” she said.

‘Our lad’

Originally from Tallaght, Ms Smyth said her mother would often ask her ‘how’s our lad doing?’ referring to Ibrahim. She said there was a sense of community around his case.

Ibrahim sent Ms Smyth a letter from prison to “thank the people of Wexford” for all they’ve been doing, a letter Ms Smyth still has.

“I was so glad,” she said about the acquittal. “I was terrified of any complications. I rang Omaima [his sister] and we were both crying on the phone, then I got on to Lynn Boylan and I told her I’m crying like a baby and she said ‘so am I’.”

Anas Khaled, one of Ibrahim’s friends, said he couldn’t describe the “delight and happiness” he was feeling.

“While watching the live stream of the trial, I was very worried and afraid of the outcome. But once I heard the judge say ‘acquittal to Ibrahim Halawa’, I burst into tears, tears of joy and relief. The struggle is finally over and he can come back to his family and friends now,” he said.

Mr Khaled said the support varied over the years.

“I remember when we got the news four years ago that Ibrahim and his sisters were in prison, we were protesting for three weeks non-stop. We used to send him letters through his mother but then it became very difficult to smuggle the letters in. As time got closer to every trial, I thought to myself, this is finally the day, but they would always postpone it. But now the day I’ve been dreaming of has finally arrived and I can’t wait to see my friend, neighbour and lifelong brother Ibrahim.”

Wider Irish community

Staff at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland (ICCI) share similar sentiments.

“Ibrahim is like my son,” said Nooh al-Kaddo, chief executive of ICCI. “So to hear that he will be freed is great, not only for the Muslim community, but for the wider Irish community as well.”

Mr Kaddo said the “pressure made by the media and the government” helped achieve “what we were expecting”.

“I think the public support was great from the beginning,” he said. “The only thing we were worried about at certain stages was that the Government was not pushing [hard enough]. Of course we appreciate that we’re in a different country and Egypt has a completely different system, but we had a feeling that the Government’s pressure was not reflecting the public pressure.”

He continued: “I think the pressure made in the last two months by the Government was honestly much stronger than before,” adding that it is “one of the main reasons” that aided in the outcome.

“We were celebrating here. I feel like Irish society at large is celebrating because at the end of the day, he’s an Irish citizen,” he said.

Summayah Kenna, head of community welfare at ICCI, said she was “delighted” for Ibrahim and his family.

‘Justice prevailed’

“Justice, as late as it is, has been carried out [and] he has been acquitted of all charges,” she said. “So it’s out there in the face of all those doubters and accusers. He’s an innocent boy that has become a man while incarcerated unjustly. So it’s great to see that justice prevailed in the end.”

Ms Kenna said Ibrahim has been “unfairly judged” by some. “He’s a young man, in the throes of his life, that went out and joined a protest. I’d go out and do it myself if I was in Hong Kong, never mind Egypt. It’s what we do, especially when we’re young.”

Leila Hajji, who was at ICCI, described the happiness she felt when she heard the news. “The tears just started falling. It felt like he was one of my family members. I could only imagine what his poor mother was going through.”

Chama Bara, another member of the community, said she was “so, so happy, because we missed him. I’ve known him since he was a child. He’s the same age as my little brother. I hope he gets home safely.”

Fatima Halawa, Ibrahim’s sister, said the feeling hasn’t sunk in yet. “For the past two days I’ve been waking up and I just sit on my bed for a second ‘is this true? Is it actually true?’ because it’s been ongoing for the past four years. I think it’s not going to register completely until Ibrahim is home and he’s lying there on his bed and he’s safe.”

Ms Halawa said the public support they’ve received has been the “backbone of the campaign”. “It was amazing the little things that you’d receive, whether it’s a text from someone that you’d never met, or a letter or flowers or a book. It’s amazing and that’s what kept us going. I feel like at times if that wasn’t there, it would have devastated us. It was already hard enough to have to deal with Ibrahim not being here but having that support helped ease an already-difficult journey.”