Belfast Telegraph

Egypt wait goes on for Irish family

Four Irish siblings detained by Egyptian authorities could face an agonising three-day wait to learn their fate.

The Halawa family were taken before a prosecutor in Cairo today, where they expected to be either released or charged and have their detention extended.

But the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that sisters Omaima, 20, Fatima, 22, and Somaia, 27, and their 17-year-old brother Ibrihim must wait until Saturday or Sunday to hear a decision on their case.

"The siblings appeared before a prosecutor today," a department spokesman said.

"But it is likely they will not hear a decision until the weekend."

The siblings were caught up in violence in the Egyptian capital and jailed earlier this month.

They had travelled to Egypt earlier in the summer for a holiday.

The three sisters and their teenage brother were forced to seek sanctuary in the Al Fateh mosque nearly two weeks ago after violent clashes between supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi and the security forces.

The Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that two Irish diplomats providing consular assistance to the family - from Firhouse, south Dublin - were refused entry to the Salam security camp where the hearing with a prosecutor took place today.

The siblings' lawyers were present and requested that they be freed immediately.

Junior foreign minister Joe Costello said he could not predict how the Egyptian authorities would rule on the Halawas, saying everything was still "up in the air".

He said he had hoped for a decision from the prosecutor today, but that he understood the courtroom was full with other detainees and more time may have been allotted to deal with the case properly.

"It could be that the authorities are leaving the decision until later when they have had time to study the case properly," said Mr Costello, Minister of State for Trade and Development.

"We have no idea what the attitude towards the Halawas is at this point in time. We will just have to wait to hear the outcome."

Earlier, the prisoners' sister, Nosayba Halawa, said she was frustrated by the legal process.

Speaking in Dublin, she claimed her family had to wait "hours" for the prosecutor, who was late arriving at the hearing this afternoon.

"We are still hopeful they will get home as soon as they possibly can," Ms Halawa said.

It is understood that the siblings have been detained in separate holdings since their arrest.

Meanwhile, chairman of the committee on foreign affairs and trade Pat Breen revealed that he was briefed this week on the family's plight by Ahmed Mostafa, Charge d'Affaires at the Embassy of Egypt.

"The Charge said they were being well-treated, that the Embassy of Ireland had consular access to them, and that they were receiving family visits," said Mr Breen.

"He said it was for the justice system to decide the way forward."

Mr Breen said he hoped for the early return of the siblings and had deep concerns at the bloodshed that had taken place and over the difficulties that this was likely to cause for a return to a working democratic system.

"I stressed the importance of restoring constitutional government and adherence to the principles of human rights in the treatment of detainees," Mr Breen said.

He revealed that the Charge told him the Muslim Brotherhood had declined every offer to enter into the new reality that existed in Egypt, and that the situation in Raba al Adwiya Square and the Raba 'a Mosque, and in particular the presence there of firearms, and the increasing involvement of fundamentalist groups, gave the authorities no option but to take action.

"He said the future of President Morsi and other detainees would be determined by the courts," Mr Breen added.

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