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‘I am steadfast,’ says Egyptian preacher on death row

Sheikh Fadl Al-Mawla Hassan and his daughter

Sheikh Fadl Al-Mawla Hassan was at work at the Engineer’s Syndicate in Alexandria when Egyptian forces raided the building. Everyone, including the security guards and officials working for the company, were arrested.

Once they had everyone in custody police started to investigate their background – were they active in politics, did they attend protests, were they anti-coup.

With his long beard Sheikh Fadl was an obvious target. Before long authorities found that he was a known preacher in Alexandria and affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Shortly after his arrest a video of Sheikh Fadl wearing just his underwear was broadcast across Egyptian television networks – he had killed a Christian taxi driver, said the anchors, at the Rabaa sit-in in July 2013.

Egyptian authorities publicly announced Sheikh Fadl’s home address in an attempt to encourage hate attacks from the victim’s family and the wider public. He has never confessed to the crime, neither in writing, on video or in court, despite the authorities’ attempts to coerce him to do so.

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Fadl’s wife Safaa Abdul Salam found out her husband had been detained when one of his colleagues called and told her he was in prison. The family searched social media for evidence of what had happened when they came across the video.

“We were shocked when we heard the news,” says one of Sheikh Fadl’s four daughters, Fatima, who is in her second year of university: “We knew he was innocent but we were shocked that we had been deprived of our father.”

Images were spread across the internet that depicted Fadl as a terrorist and a murderer. “They took horrible pictures of him,” recalls Fatima, “depicting him as hostile and violent”.

Eventually Fatima’s father was sentenced to death. According to Amnesty International the Egyptian court where he was tried relied on the account of one witness, who was pressured, and disregarded evidence proving he was at work at the time of the protest.

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All family members were prohibited from attending the hearings, says Fatima; later the death sentence was upheld on appeal by the Court of Cassation.

Sheikh Fadl is caught up in the ongoing discrimination and violence taking place against Egypt’s Christian minority and the state’s failure to protect them. Despite the fact that authorities are warned in advance about mob attacks on Christians – which take place on a regular basis particularly in the south of the country – they offer no protection to these communities.

Christians find it hard to find jobs and play in the top football teams; there is a two per cent cap on the number of Christians allowed to join the armed forces and the judiciary.

Sheikh Fadl’s conviction is an attempt by the government to show the public that they are doing something about increasing sectarian violence in Egypt, without doing anything at all:

“They addressed the case from a sectarian perspective because the Sheikh had a beard and the victim was Christian,” says Fatima.

Read more: Egypt’s Christians face persecution at home and abroad

Sheikh Fadl is being held in Borg Al-Arab Prison near the city of Alexandria. Fatima says his cell is so dirty her father has developed an abscess on his foot and even though his condition is deteriorating he has been denied medical attention.

A father’s words for a distraught daughter when she visits him are simply: “I am steadfast and patient until God destines me to be free.”

Fadl’s family has run out of legal avenues to challenge the charge against him, which means that he could be executed at any time – tomorrow if authorities wake up and decide to do so, or after years if they decide to drag it out.

As a desperate attempt to try and change the direction of her father’s fate his youngest daughter, Somaya, launched a video appeal under the hashtag #help_me_sad_dad to urge the world to intervene.

“The video prompted many to sympathise with the case but there was no practical reaction,” says Fatima.

Sheikh Fadl is one of a growing number of Egyptians on death row since the 2013 coup. In Egypt in 2016 237 death sentences were administered – more than any other country in the region and twice as many as the year before – and 44 people were executed.

In 2013 no executions were recorded.

“There is no hope for the improvement of the situation in Egypt under military rule,” says Fatima on the future of her country: “Egypt will continue to go from bad to worse.”

As the political climate becomes increasingly oppressive, it is ordinary people like Sheikh Fadl and his family who continue to pay the highest price:

“His hobby was reading,” says Fatima, describing her father. “He was compassionate and tolerant and knew how to deal with others. He was a perfect husband, a caring father, and a great neighbour and brother.”

Marwa Assem contributed reporting

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