Ibrahim Halawa took time to speak to students at the University of Limerick on Wednesday the 21st of March.
The Dublin born man spoke about his time in an Egyptian prison, his decision to become political and the problem of radicalisation in prisons.
The 22-year-old says that religion has very little to do with radicalisation in prisons, but admits it is a huge problem in countries such as Egypt.
“Of course radicalisation was a big problem in prison, it’s certainly not a small issue, but it has nothing to do with religion I need to clarify that firstly,”
“At least when it comes from in prison, if it’s outside of prison someone else can speak about that it’s not my field, my field is what I have seen in front of my eyes, which is people being radicalised,” Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim, who spent four years in an Egyptian prison without trial, says that a large part of radicalization stems from people who are innocent being sent to prison, and nothing being done to help them. He says the loss of hope and the anger that these people feel make its easier to manipulate them.
“I had a cellmate whose wife was being tortured in front of him, she was stripped naked and electrocuted in her genitals, and he was made watch.
“Someone like that is not going to say oh I forgive you very easily, so obviously he’s going to come out and seek revenge,” said Ibrahim.
Ibrahim brought these issues up when he was in the European parliament.
“We are fighting terrorists and killing innocent people but we know where it is being manufactured, it’s been manufactured in prisons of a dictator like in Egypt.
“We know where it’s coming from, but we’re not willing to fight it, we’re not willing to put political pressure on it to end it,” he said.
Ibrahim says he tried to counter radicalisation by giving prisoners another outlet of hope.
“People who have been radicalised have a special loss of hope, it’s a lack of emotions that are being filled with revenge.
“I was always in prison trying to give people hope and that’s what I’m doing right now I’m not giving up on them, I can prevent more people being radicalised,” he said.
While in prison, Ibrahim learned that his mother has been diagnosed with cancer. It was this news that drove him to take a hunger strike.
“I just said I can’t give up especially after my mum was diagnosed with cancer and that’s when I went on a severe hunger strike where I was in a wheelchair,” he said
“A hunger strike is not just a decision to stop eating.
“In prison, a hunger strike is the strongest weapon you have because when they realise you are willing to give up life for something so valuable to you, that’s when they start to negotiate,” he said.
The Dublin born man said that he had been inspired by Irish political prisoners such as Bobby Sands.
“I had to study hunger strikes and people who had gone on hunger strike and the stuff I discovered from the hunger strike itself give me the experience of a lifetime.
People go through hardships for us to learn from their story, they went through hardship and I had to learn from their story,” he said.
Ibrahim spoke about his time inside an Egyptian prison and how it differs from his life back home.
“It was a whole new world you can’t describe in a few minutes.
“Everyday I’d learn something new, it was different words different types of food, different types of engagement, different types of currency,” he said.
The 22-year-old, who was only 17 when he was arrested during protests in Cairo, spoke about the mental and physical torture he was subjected to during his time in prison.
“It was the mental torture that really got me, waking up to screaming, beating me in front of my mum, shaving my head every day leaving patches of hair on my head to show that they are in control, but I refused to surrender to them,” he said.
Ibrahim described how in prison, you must learn to find hope in the smallest and most unlikely of places. For food, the prisoners were often given uncooked beans to eat. While most of the prisoners would complain about this, Ibrahim turned it into something beautiful.
“I took one of the beans that they gave us and I put it in some tissue, I would water that tissue every few days.
“After a few days I saw a leaf grow, I saw something green grow for the first time in years,” he said.
Ibrahim has refuted claims that he went to Egypt to become politically active.
“I went to Egypt for a summer holiday, my family is originally from Egypt, my mum and dad are Egyptian.
“But of course from a holiday, it turned politically active, I was protesting about my two friends that died,” he said.
Ibrahim addressed the people who were asking “how do you get from the cinema and end up on stage.”
“I walked, it’s not that hard.”
Ibrahim explained that he decided to become politically active in Eygpt after his friends were shot by the military.
“I was arrested for saying that it is wrong to kill people.
“I was saying no it’s wrong to kill my friends,” he said.
He said that he was unaware of the impact his protest would have on his life.
“To be honest when you have someone close die to you, people you build memories with there is that human factor within you that rages.
You want to speak out, you want to stand up for your friends, and at the time I didn’t see the consequences of me speaking out,” he said.
Ibrahim says that he never expected to end up behind bars in an Egyptian prison.
“I thought I was going to come back to my normal life my college life.
“I was living in Europe where we take human rights for granted,” he said.
Despite his horrific ordeal, Ibrahim says that if he could turn back the clocks, he would still stand up for what he believes in.
“I wouldn’t change anything about it I would do the same thing again,” he finished.