SHARM EL CHEIKH, EGYPT - The sister of Egyptian-British hunger striker Alaa Abd el-Fattah has landed in Sharm el-Sheikh to campaign for his release as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and other world leaders began the COP27 climate summit.
“I’m here to do my best to try and shed light on my brother’s case and to save him,” said Sanaa Seif, Abd el-Fattah’s sister, after arriving in Sharm el-Sheikh in the early hours of Monday.
“I’m really worried. I’m here to put pressure on all leaders coming, especially Prime Minister Rishi Sunak,” said Seif, who had recently been leading a sit-in outside the British Foreign Office in London.
Sunak has said he will raise Abd el-Fattah’s case with Egypt’s leadership. Abd el-Fattah had informed his family that he would stop drinking water on Sunday in an escalation of his protest.
The 40-year-old political activist rose to prominence with Egypt’s 2011 uprising but has been jailed for most of the period since. Sentenced most recently in December 2021 to five years on charges of spreading false news, he has been on hunger strike for 220 days against his detention and prison conditions.
Egyptian officials have not responded to calls for comment on Abd el-Fattah’s case, but have said previously that he was receiving meals and was moved to a prison with better conditions earlier this year.
Abd el-Fattah’s family said he was only consuming minimal calories and some fibre to sustain himself earlier in the year. After family visits in October, Seif said: “He looks very weak. He’s fading away slowly. He looks like a skeleton.”
Some rights campaigners have criticised the decision to allow Egypt to host COP27, citing a long crackdown on political dissent in which rights groups say tens of thousands have been imprisoned and raising concern over access and space for protests at the talks.
Jailed Egyptian activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah has stopped drinking water, his family said on Sunday, escalating his hunger strike as the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he will raise his case with Cairo during the COP27 climate summit that opened on Sunday.
A major figure in the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime president Hosni Mubarak, Abd el-Fattah is currently serving a five-year sentence on charges of “spreading false news”, having already spent much of the past decade behind bars.
After a seven-month hunger strike during which he consumed only “100 calories a day”, he has refused food altogether since Tuesday, and on Sunday launched a “water strike”, his sister Sanaa Seif said in a statement.
On Saturday, Sunak told Seif in a letter that the UK would use the summit to lobby for her brother’s release.
In the letter, which was posted by his family on social media, Sunak wrote that the case remained a priority for the British government and had been raised with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi several times.
“I will continue to stress to President Sisi the importance that we attach to the swift resolution of Alaa’s case and an end to his unacceptable treatment,” Sunak wrote.
“The UK’s attendance at COP27 is another opportunity to raise your brother’s case with the Egyptian leadership.”
Sunak’s office confirmed the letter.
Keep his story alive’
The family, which communicates with Abd el-Fattah through weekly letters and during rare visits, says it fears that if he is not released during the climate conference, he will die without water.
After family visits in October, his sister said: “He looks very weak, he’s fading away slowly, he looks like a skeleton.”
“I consider lights on around 10am as a signal of a new day,” he wrote in his most recent letter to his family. “With the turning on of the lights on Sunday Nov. 6, I’ll drink my last cup of water … anything after that is unknown.”
Egyptian officials have previously said that he was receiving meals and was moved to a prison with better conditions earlier this year.
Amnesty International chief Agnes Callamard told reporters in Cairo on Sunday that “Alaa Abdel Fattah must be released”, warning his death in prison may be imminent.
“There is not a lot of time, 72 hours at best,” she said. “If they don’t [release him], that death will be in every single discussion in this COP.”
Tens of thousands of participants, including some 90 heads of state and government, are expected in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh for the United Nations climate summit from Sunday through November 18.
Sunak, who is also due to attend the conference, “needs to understand the urgency” in securing Abd el-Fattah’s release, Seif told the UK’s Sky News on Sunday.
“After the conference, it could be too late.”
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has said security measures are needed to stabilise Egypt after the country’s 2011 revolution. Egypt is hoping to raise its diplomatic profile by hosting the United Nations climate talks.
More than 100 world leaders are preparing to discuss a worsening problem that climate scientists call Earth’s biggest challenge – greenhouse gas emissions – which leads to global warming.
The climate events are being held amid multiple global crises surrounding food, energy and rising inflation, and expectations for breakthroughs are seen to be low.
Dozens of heads of states or governments will take the stage on Monday, the first day of “high-level” international climate talks, in Egypt, with more to come in the following days.
“The fear is other priorities take precedence,” top UN climate change official Simon Stiell told a news conference.
he “fear is that we lose another day, another week, another month, another year – because we can’t”, he said.
In 2009, developed countries pledged to provide $100bn a year by 2020 for climate protection in poor countries. The pledge remained largely unfulfilled.
Only 29 of 194 countries have presented improved climate plans, as called for at the UN talks in Glasgow last year, Stiell noted.
French President Emmanuel Macron urged the United States, China and other non-European rich nations to “step up” their efforts to cut emissions and provide financial aid to other countries.
“Europeans are paying,” Macron told French and African climate campaigners on the sidelines of COP27. “We are the only ones paying.”
‘Loss and damage’
Fresh from his election victory, Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is expected to attend the summit later on, with hopes that he will protect the Amazon from deforestation after defeating climate-sceptic leader Jair Bolsonaro.
Sunak, another new leader, reversed a decision not to attend the talks and is due to urge countries to move “further and faster” in transitioning away from fossil fuels.
On Sunday, the heads of developing nations won a small victory when delegates agreed to put the controversial issue of money for “loss and damage” on the summit agenda.
Pakistan, which chairs the powerful G77+China negotiating bloc of more than 130 developing nations, has made the issue a priority.
“We definitely regard this as a success for the parties,” said Egypt’s Sameh Shoukry, who is chairing COP27.
The US and the European Union have dragged their feet on the issue for years, fearing it would create an open-ended reparations framework.
But European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans welcomed the inclusion of loss and damage, tweeting that the “climate crisis has impacts beyond what vulnerable countries can shoulder alone”.