The nightmare started on New Year’s Eve, on the 31st of December 2018. Our family was returning from a vacation in Egypt— our home country— to Doha, Qatar where my husband, Bahaa Eldin Ibrahim, was a journalist with Al Jazeera. Little did we know that our family vacation would end with Bahaa arrested, marking the start of the most difficult 23 months of our lives. From that day forward I was no longer just Mona. I became the wife of a political prisoner, living a nightmare I am still unable to wake up from.
While traveling through Cairo International Airport, we were stopped at passport control and led to the national security office for questioning. Two officers interrogated us there about our family, relationships, and Bahaa’s work with Al Jazeera. We were even asked which presidential candidate we voted for in 2012. Our phones were searched, including my children’s, and we were asked to explain some family photos.
We answered all their questions honestly, thinking that we had nothing to hide. Bahaa is a journalist, not a political activist, and he had worked for reputable news outlets such as the Associated Press and the Egyptian National Television.
I am writing this article as a wife who misses her husband. As a mother who’s tired of waiting for justice. I want to wake up from the nightmare. Free my husband. Free Bahaa
After the interrogation, the officers told Bahaa that he would not be allowed to travel with us, and that he would need to visit the national security headquarters to pick up his passport. I had no choice but to return without him, as our children had school and we didn’t want to interrupt their lives. Our family was forced to start the new year separated from Bahaa
Bahaa had to go to national security headquarters several times before finally receiving his passport after yet another interrogation. However, despite having his passport back, when he attempted to return to Doha he was stopped once again, interrogated, prevented from traveling, and had his passport confiscated. Yet again he was told that he would have to return to national security headquarters.
From this point onwards, Bahaa was stuck in a vicious cycle of visits to the national security headquarters, only to be denied his passport each time. He would ask to meet with anyone in charge, but was simply told to leave and wait for someone to call him.
That phone call never came, and this pattern lasted for almost a year— during which I lived in terror that he might be arrested at any time. I could not eat or sleep and began to see a psychiatrist for the first time. She prescribed some pills to help me sleep.
During that time — and up until now — I had to act as both a father and a mother for the first time since we married 17 years ago. Bahaa is a family man and he used to spend the majority of his free time with us. His absence is still difficult to adjust to.
By the beginning of 2020, Bahaa was fed up with this situation and decided to try to travel for the third time. He applied for a new passport, received it, and began to arrange his trip to Doha. The plan was to try leaving from another airport, Borg Al-Arab International Airport in Alexandria, bringing with him many gifts for his family he had gone over a year without seeing.
However, the worst part of the nightmare had yet to begin. Rather than successfully making his way home to his family, he was arrested on February 22, 2020 and was forcibly detained for 75 days. We didn’t know where he was or what was happening to him. We had no idea whether he was dead or alive. I could not answer any of my children’s questions about their father’s whereabouts.
On May 6 2020, we caught our first glimpse of hope. Someone sent me a Facebook page that had posted a list of names of individuals who appeared that day before the National Security Prosecution after having been forcibly disappeared for various periods of time. Later that same day, we received a call from Bahaa. He recounted to me everything that had happened to him over the last 75 days in detail: He had been tortured, electrocuted, and kept blindfolded and handcuffed for the whole period. I will never forget our daughter’s reaction when she finally heard his voice again. She kept crying and calling out to him, “Where are you? I want to see you?”
Bahaa recounted everything that had happened to him over the last 75 days in detail: He had been tortured, electrocuted, and kept blindfolded and handcuffed for the whole period, before being transferred to prison where he remains to this day
After his appearance, Bahaa was moved to a detention center for several weeks before being transferred to prison — where he remains to this day. He has been detained for almost 23 months now without trial. He was charged with being a member of a terrorist group, an accusation the Egyptian authorities use to justify the imprisonment of many journalists and human rights activists.
Last September, Bahaa turned 45 years old, and at the same time completed 1000 days away from us, almost two years of which he has been in prison. Over the last few months, several human rights organizations and media watch dogs have called for his freedom, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters without Borders (RSF) who demanded his immediate release along with his colleagues from Al Jazeera Hisham Abdel Aziz (arrested in 2019) and Rabie Al-Sheikh (arrested in August 2021).
I am writing this article as a wife who misses her husband. As a mother who’s tired of waiting for justice. I want to wake up from the nightmare. Free my husband. Free Bahaa.