In five months, a pivotal UN climate summit will take place in Sharp el-Sheikh, Egypt.
But climate activists say the plight of a prominent political prisoner shows how protesters’ voices will be ignored, or even silenced, at the climate summit.
Alaa Abd El Fattah is a figurehead of the 2011 Egyptian revolution. He has spent most of the past decade behind bars. He was first jailed for organizing demonstrations against a law that effectively banned all protests. He was then re-arrested in 2019 during anti-government protests, in which he had no involvement. Last year, he was handed an additional five years in a maximum security prison on charges of “spreading false news undermining national security” for making comments about torture on social media. Now on his 89th day of a hunger strike, Abd El Fattah is subsisting on only a handful of calories a day, typically only skimmed milk or a spoonful of honey in tea.
Abd El Fattah, through a message passed to his sister, noted the irony of the annual Cop summit taking place in Egypt.
“Of all the countries to host they chose the one banning protest and sending everyone to prison, which tells me how the world is handling the issue. They’re not interested in finding a joint solution for the climate,” he said.
Environmental campaigners and activists fear that his case is the limit test for Egypt’s commitment to allow protests.
Experts and activists are expressing concern already that their voices will be ignored or silenced in a time when governments desperately need to hear from civil society about the worsening effects of climate change.
Activists are taking a stance that the international climate movement needs to pay attention to what is happening in Egypt’s prisons. Legal experts say that Abd El Fattah’s case shows the high price many Egyptians have paid for daring to protest.
Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry is tasked with overseeing Cop27. In May he said that Egypt would allow demonstrations, but it would be in a separate area away from the talks themselves.
Human Rights Watch executive director Ken Roth said that it has long been apparent that governments need the pressure from civil society to address climate change in a meaningful way, but that Egypt has shown it suppresses civi society and independent voices.