On Wednesday afternoon the nursery where Rana Greash’s daughter was enrolled called her and invited her for a meeting.
“My partner knows who Laila’s father is,” said the manager when Rana arrived. “He knows where her father is and has refused to allow Laila to continue at the nursery.”
The manager tried to convince her partner to change his mind but he refused, so Rana gathered her daughter’s belongings and took her home.
The family live in Ismailia, a city in the north-east of Egypt on the west bank of the Suez Canal, but it was in 6 October City, just outside Cairo, where Laila’s father was kidnapped on 29 February 2016.
He was forcibly disappeared for a month and then brought before the State Security Prosecution on charges of assassinating Hisham Barakat, Egypt’s public prosecutor who was killed in a car bomb in 2015.
Ahmad Wahdan was taken to the Scorpion, a wing within Tora Prison, which is notorious for its brutal treatment of inmates and lack of independent oversight. One year later he was sentenced to death.
“Visits to Ahmad have been banned for two years,” says Rana. “We have visited him three times since his arrest. Ahmad does not know anything about us and does not know how what his daughter looks like. The last time he saw Laila was when she was eight-months-old. Now she is two and a half.”
Rana was five months pregnant when Ahmad was arrested and so the first time he saw his daughter was when she was one-month-old.
“While she was teething I wanted to tell him about her first stage of growth, so while we were at court there was glass barrier between us and we couldn’t talk to him so I pointed at my teeth as a sign to show him she is teething. That picture went viral on social media,” says Rana.
Laila’s case has set a precedent in Egypt in that there are no known cases of children being evicted from nursery because of who their parents are. However, the regime’s brutality towards children, particularly those whose parents oppose the current government, is ongoing.
In North Sinai schools have been razed, children arrested, forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially killed. Across Egypt, since 2013 at least ten children have been recommended for death sentences.
On Tuesday Amnesty International released evidence from six children who had been tortured in custody having been subject to prolonged periods of solitary confinement, enforced disappearance, severe beatings, being suspended by their limbs and electric shocks on their genitals.
There are numerous cases in which political prisoners have been forced to spend their children’s early years behind bars, rather than taking them to the playground or helping them with their homework.
This was the case for Ahmad, who was able only to send his wishes for Laila’s education through the families of detained friends. “He wanted Laila to be enrolled in a good nursery with a good reputation and a strong syllabus,” recalls Rana.
When even this could not be fulfilled, Rana felt helpless. “I did not know how to fight for my daughter’s rights, I was very sad and depressed and I cried a lot. Then I shared the story on Facebook and I did not imagine that the post would be so widely shared or that people would sympathise with Laila this much.”
Rana’s post has generated huge interest with over 2,500 shares and almost 6,000 likes. “Many people spoke to me and sympathised with Laila’s case. Despite their different views they all agreed that Laila shouldn’t be treated that way, it’s not her fault.”
“This just happened yesterday, that’s why I feel very sensitive and emotional,” she continues. “I am very sad for Laila because she is very young and has no responsibility for what happens, she does not understand anything, and does not know where her father is; they are punishing her for something she knows nothing about. This saddens me so much.”
Laila Ahmet contributed reporting