COP27 shines spotlight on Egypt’s rights abuses


From a small blue tent set up for the British Foreign Office, Sanaa al-Seif has led a one-man protest in an attempt to release her brother from an Egyptian prison as the Arab state prepares to host world leaders at the COP27 top.

Like many Egyptians, she hopes the climate conference, which kicks off on Sunday in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, will provide a rare opportunity to bring the country’s poor human rights record into the international spotlight. to put.

“COP is an opportunity when the eyes will be on Egypt – a chance to speak up and get some breathing room,” Seif said, surrounded by portraits of her incarcerated brother, Alaa Abdel Fattah. “It could save lives if the spotlight on the human rights situation continues to grow and if governments include this in their engagement with the Egyptian authorities.”

Abdel Fattah is one of the most prominent political prisoners among the thousands detained by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime since the former army chief took power in a coup d’état in 2013. And the attention his case has received in the run-up to COP27 underlines how concerns about human rights threaten to cast a shadow over the summit.

Sanaa’s protest and Abdel Fattah’s imprisonment have already attracted the attention of climate activists – Greta Thunberg was among those who visited her tented sit-in as a show of solidarity.

Amnesty International used a rare press conference in Cairo on Sunday to call for the immediate release of Abdel Fattah, who has been on partial hunger strike for more than 200 days.

“We’re running out of time, so if the authorities don’t want to end up with a death they should – and could – have prevented, they need to act now,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty’s secretary general. “Twenty-four, 48 hours, 72 hours at most — that’s all they have to save a life. If they don’t, that death will [hang over] COP27. It will be in every discussion.”

Callamard added that despite the release of some 776 political prisoners this year, Cairo has still arrested 1,500 people since April.

“We’re not going to be fooled,” she said. “The government cannot get out of the situation. It must take concrete, visible, authentic actions.”

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wrote to Sanaa Seif on Saturday that the British government was “completely committed” to solving Abdel Fattah’s case and that he “remains a priority”.

The 40-year-old, who was an icon of the 2011 revolution that ousted veteran President Hosni Mubarak, was granted British citizenship last year.

Dozens of British MPs have also raised his case in recent weeks, while 15 Nobel laureates in literature have lobbied for leaders to use the summit to raise the issue of Egypt’s political prisoners.

Some activists say the scrutiny that accompanied the COP27 has already made the regime at least indicate its sensitivity to outside criticism ahead of the summit.

Hossam Bahgat, the head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, an independent advocacy group in Cairo, said the government had released about 800 political prisoners this year and also pledged to engage in political dialogue with civil society and opposition parties.

Those moves signal a tentative shift for a government widely described as the country’s most autocratic in decades.

Sanaa al-Seif, left, is joined by climate activists Greta Thunberg and Andreas Magnusson, and Mona Seif, sister of imprisoned blogger Abd El-Fattah © Hollie Adams/Getty Images

Bahgat said the number of released from prison was more than in previous years, but added that it “still remains a small number relative to the total population of political prisoners”.

“What’s even more worrying is that new arrests over political allegations have not stopped at the same pace, but it’s still a positive signal,” he said.

The problem, he added, was that the positive steps were just “nascent steps that don’t represent tangible or lasting change.”

For Abdel Fattah’s family, the fear is that time is running out, as he has promised to stop drinking water on Sunday.

“He looked very weak when I last saw him in August, so I don’t know how his body can hold up,” Sanaa said.

Her brother has spent eight of the past ten years behind bars. The activist is serving five years in prison after he was convicted in December of “spreading false news that undermines national security” for a social media post.

Sanaa, who plans to attend COP27, was herself only released from prison in December after serving 18 months on charges of spreading false news, inciting terrorist offenses and social media abuse.

She feared that Sisi would use COP27 to show his domestic audience that he is strong and enjoys the support of Western powers; she urged governments to take a stronger stance on human rights violations.

“Whether Western politicians agree or not . . . this is how it is presented to us Egyptians and how it is used,” she said. “If Sisi feels his PR might be a bit ruined, he would release some more.”

Despite his administration’s record of human rights, Sisi has maintained good relations with Western capitals that traditionally viewed Egypt as an important Arab partner and vital to regional stability.

Former US President Donald Trump once jokingly described Sisi as his “favorite dictator”. The Biden administration has been more vocal about human rights, but last year gave Egypt $1.1 billion in military aid, while withholding $225 million over rights concerns.

“We have made it very clear to the Egyptian government that we are concerned about human rights issues in Egypt,” a foreign ministry official said. Politically motivated arrests in particular are a major challenge in Egypt.

Bahgat said his concern was that once COP27 ends, the regime will return to its old ways, saying the small steps taken “could be reversed very easily. . . as soon as the eye of the world is no longer on Egypt.”

Additional reporting by Felicia Schwartz in Washington

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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