Ahmed Seif al-Islam Hamad, Pioneering Rights Lawyer, Mourned by Egyptian Activists

Robert Mackey, New York Times

Egyptians who continue to fight for the goals of their 2011 revolution, even after most of its gains have been undone, were in mourning Thursday as they buried the pioneering human rights lawyer Ahmed Seif al-Islam Hamad.

Mr. Seif, 63, died on Wednesday from complications following heart surgery, his family said. Two of his three children — the blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah and the political activist Sanaa Seif — were unable to visit their father in the hospital because they had been jailed since earlier this year for taking part in protests against a restrictive new law banning unsanctioned demonstrations.

Another prominent human rights advocate, Aida Seif el-Dawla, a psychiatrist who directs the Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture in Cairo, said the decision not to let Mr. Seif’s children visit him on his deathbed was as baffling as it was cruel. “We are left with loneliness, grief and bitterness,” she wrote on Facebook. “We are at a loss to understand how making a great man suffer — by depriving him of the company of his son and daughter on his deathbed — could bring the country stability or bring its people anything good.”

A longtime political dissident who was imprisoned and tortured in the 1980s, Mr. Seif studied law in prison and, after his release, began practicing law and later helped found one of Egypt’s leading human rights organizations, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center. He went on to defend the rights of Egyptians persecuted for a wide spectrum of beliefs and practices, including socialists and Islamists, men accused of violating laws against homosexuality and bloggers jailed for criticizing the authorities online.

He was detained during the 2011 protests that forced President Hosni Mubarak from office, Mr. Seif recalled in an interview with The Guardian last year, and after he was interrogated about the protest movement for 48 hours by military intelligence officers, he met their chief, Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who would later be promoted to defense minister and lead a coup. Mr. Seif said that General Sisi told him during that conversation that the protesters “should respect Hosni Mubarak and the military leadership” and “must return to our homes and leave Tahrir Square.” After Mr. Seif replied that Mr. Mubarak was corrupt, General Sisi’s face “became red” with rage.

“He acted as if every citizen would accept his point and no one would reject it in public,” Mr. Seif said. “When he was rejected in public, he lost it.”

In his final days Mr. Seif was preoccupied with the cases brought by the state against his children. His son, known to hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers as @Alaa, was sentenced in June to 15 years in prison for violating the military-backed government’s ban on unsanctioned protests. His daughter Sanaa was jailed a week later, along with 22 other activists, for attending a protest against the same law.

At a news conference in January, Mr. Seif used his family’s story to illustrate the lack of progress in Egypt since the revolution. “Alaa, I wanted you to inherit democratic society that guards your rights, my son, but instead I passed on the prison cell that held me and now holds you,” he said.

Images of Mr. Seif’s funeral shared on Twitter by mourners showed that Mr. Abd El Fattah and Ms. Seif were allowed to attend, along with their mother, Laila Soueif, and their sister, Mona Seif, who campaigns against the use of military trials for civilians.

After the funeral, The Associated Press reported, Mr. Abd El Fattah addressed the crowd of mourners and plainclothes policemen, saying, “My father died a martyr and you know who killed him.” Mr. Seif had postponed heart surgery earlier this year to deal with the legal cases against his children.

Mr. Abd El Fattah and his sister were surrounded by police officers in civilian dress during the funeral, their aunt, Ahdaf Soueif, said in a tweet indicating the positions of the officers.

Before, during and after the funeral, younger activists shared tributes on social networks to the man who fought for justice during one of the most repressive periods of recent Egyptian history.

Mr. Seif’s death came amid a continuing crackdown on dissent in Egypt. This week, one activist wrote that Egyptians who speak their minds on social networks have been getting threatening phone calls from state security agents.

On Thursday, the independent Cairene news site Mada Masr reportedthat a lawyer was trying to get a court order to ban Facebook and Twitter in Egypt, claiming that unfettered access to social networks had “placed millions of spies everywhere,” threatening the country’s security.