A dialogue with the deaf

Detention of Ibrahim Halawa cannot hide behind the line that insists ‘Egypt is a country in which the rule of law is paramount’

 

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has cause to fear street protests. As recently as 2011 and 2013, Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule and that of the Muslim Brotherhood which succeeded him, were ended by what has been called the Arab street. And Sisi, who took the presidency on the back of the latter, knows he can ill afford to let this flower flourish.

On Friday the authorities again imposed a huge crackdown that effectively suffocated any of the expected mass demonstrations called to protest against austerity. Last week the government, largely at the behest of the IMF, raised fuel prices and floated its currency following electricity price increases of 25 to 40 per cent and a new a 13 per cent VAT rate in August.

A small cog in this whirlwind of crackdown and repression, Irish citizen Ibrahim Halawa (20), stands little chance. The young man’s trial, with 493 others, was postponed for the 16th time on Saturday. No evidence has yet been heard. But the Sisi regime has manifested such brutality and callous indifference to suffering among its people – Halawa was arrested in 2013 for participating in a demonstration about army and police killings of at least 817 people in a protest a few days beforehand – that the fate of a young foreigner languishing in jail scarcely registers.

And the country’s international reputation matters as little to Sisi, not least with autocrat-loving Donald Trump heading for the White House. The first call taken by him from a foreign leader last week was from Sisi, no less. It is not likely the president-elect raised the issue of human rights.

So Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s promised call to Sisi on Halawa’s behalf this week is unfortunately unlikely to be any more effective than his last. He should make it, but all he will hear are disingenuous claims from Sisi that he can’t interfere with the judicial process and that his pardon powers only kick in when that process has run its course. His argument suggests Egypt is a country in which the rule of law is paramount. Halawa’s imprisonment and the cruelty of the regime against its own people eloquently belie such claims.

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