The case of Ibrahim Halawa, the young man from Firhouse detained four years ago in a mass arrest of pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters in Egypt after president Mohamed Morsi was overthrown by the army, has received extraordinary and justified attention in Ireland. Political and diplomatic efforts to free him have been rebuffed repeatedly by the Egyptian authorities on the grounds that they cannot interfere in the independent judicial process there. The postponement of a verdict in the trial reveals yet again the farcical, chaotic and arbitrary nature of that process and the need for more effective action against it at international level.
Halawa has been on trial with 493 others. but substantive hearings have taken place only since the beginning of the year and no evidence implicating him in the crimes alleged against public order have been presented to the three-judge court. The arrests in August 2013 took place amid tumultuous events, including an army massacre of up to 1,000 other protesters, which deeply divided Egypt.
There was widespread support for the army's role in overthrowing the Muslim Brotherhood government, including among much of the middle class who had supported the Arab Spring revolts there in 2011. Their complete disenchantment with the Morsi government's record gave carte blanche to the subsequent ruthless suppression of opposition and dissent by Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. It is directed in part against NGOs in recent legislation which warns them against harming national security, public order or morals.
The military controls large sectors of the economy and needs huge continuing subsidies on food and energy to sustain their rule. Saudi , EU and US reluctance for economic or human rights reasons to keep aid flowing opens up an opportunity for more pressure on the regime.
Ireland should intensify its efforts to secure Halawa’s release in the context of greater international awareness of Egypt’s decline into authoritarian repression and arbitrary legal procedures.