Hafsa ain’t no criminal either.
Earlier I shared a nice piece on my colleague Rawda Ali, and now Noel King from PRI’s The World has weighed with a profile on another of my fellow defendants, Hafsa Halawa – Egyptian Lawyer on Trial for Working With ‘Illegal Organization’.
Hafsa also ain’t no criminal…
… Two years later, people like Hafsa Halawa are realizing how difficult that transition can be…
… Armed with a newly-minted law degree, Halawa moved to Cairo a few months after the revolution, excited to help the fledgling democracy. She joined an American non-governmental organization (NGO) called the National Democratic Institute, or NDI, helping Egyptian political parties prepare for the country’s first free parliamentary elections in November 2011.
… Because NDI was working with parties across the political spectrum, Halawa didn’t think her work was particularly controversial. But just after the election, she found herself in the middle of a diplomatic firestorm. Egyptian security forces raided the offices of more than a dozen NGO’s, including NDI. They seized equipment and accused employees of spying. At first, Halawa says, she didn’t realize how serious the charges were until she was surrounded by security officers while at work.
“They started berating me and heckling me and screaming at me that I had damaged this country, that I was helping the Jewish, Israeli spies, that I was a Zionist. They had my ID card, so they saw that I was Egyptian. So, they to me: ‘are you not afraid for your country? Haven’t you done enough to your country? Enough. Enough. Enough.’ They kept screaming ‘enough’”…
… After the diplomatic push, Egyptian authorities agreed to let the Americans leave the country.
But the Egyptians, including Halawa, are still on trial… Halawa and her co-defendants are confined to a cage each time they appear in court…
… Egyptian political analyst Said Sadek said that Halawa’s case is one illustration of the challenges facing post-revolution Egypt. The country is now a democracy, but authoritarian values have been ingrained after decades of dictatorship.
“The regime does not allow such people to be challenging them, or exposing the corruption and human rights violations. So they are always being besieged by laws, by police system that even monitors Facebook, Skype, Twitter,” Sadek said.
Even so, Sadek – who teaches at the elite American University in Cairo – added that he’s surprised by how many of his students are willing to follow in Halawa’s footsteps.
“I get many of the graduates who were not interested in politics contacting me these days and asking, ‘What do I do? How can I join an NGO? How can I join a political party? What do I do exactly?’”
The NGO trial has been postponed until March. In the meantime, Halawa is trying to move on with her life, but finding it difficult.
“I’m angry,” Halawa said, “because I’ve spent the last 13, 14 months now, unable to work. NGOs refuse to hire me because I am on trial and it would cause problems for them with state security, even the registered organizations. I’ve had five straight rejections because of the trial. From all kinds: private sector, law firms, NGO’s and the answer is, ‘after trial ends.’”