In parallel to launching COP27, an Egyptian blogger and political prisoner Alaa Abdel Fattah started a total hunger strike two days ago, stopping drinking water after a partial strike from food for over 200 days. Alaa’s family said he felt no hope of being released by the Egyptian authorities, so he decided to end his nine years of jail anyway. “Alaa went hopeless and cannot stand anymore,” said his sister Mona, “9 years are enough for those obsessed with humiliating him.”
Alaa started a partial strike 212 days ago by reducing his daily intake to 150 calories, 10% of his minimum daily needs, and was taking them from fluids only. Over those months, Alaa lost a lot of weight, with the authorities refusing to reconsider his case or to provide him with medical care. The Egyptian government refuses to release Alaa despite international appeals and pressure from the UK government, as Alaa has British citizenship. UK ex-ambassador in Egypt John Casson wrote in The Times that Alaa would die in jail this week unless Rishi Sunak saves him. Sunak commented, “Alaa remains a priority for the British government, both as a human rights defender and a British national.”
Alaa’s sister Sanaa had launched a sit-in protest outside UK Foreign Office in Whitehall ahead of COP27, which Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg joined. “I’m not going to Cop27 for many reasons, but the space for civil society this year is minimal,” said Thunberg before the COP27 started, “The Cops are mainly used as an opportunity for leaders and people in power to get attention, using many different kinds of greenwashing.” Alaa Abdel Fattah is a notable Egyptian activist from a family known for activism in human rights defending. His name outstood after the January 2011 revolution in Egypt as one of its youth figures and an erudite blogger. Over the past few years, Alaa was recurrently arrested and jailed.
Alaa was arrested for the first time in 2006 under Mubarak after participating in a demonstration demanding independence for the judiciary, but he was detained briefly for less than two months. Again, after the January revolution, he was jailed for two months after the Maspero protests of Egyptian Copts, when the Egyptian military killed 25 Coptic protesters in front of the historical Egyptian official TV premises, the Maspero building. President Morsi was the only president Alaa witnessed his mandate without jailing. He was interrogated once but was released within less than a day though he refused to answer the interrogation.
After the military coup and despite Alaa’s initial support of the overthrow of President Morsi, a long journey of persecution started quickly when Alaa was arrested in November 2013 and sentenced to 5 years in jail for protesting undemocratic demonstration law. In 2019, he was arrested again following September 2019 while still being under surveillance according to parole without clear charges. Alaa’s suffering did not stop at the prison, as it put him in solitary confinement in the infamous high-security Scorpion prison, where the guards struck him and denied sporting outside the cell or reading books. No clothes or personal items from the family were allowed to Alaa in prison. After a hopeless endeavour to free Alaa through legal processes in Egypt, Alaa’s mother, Laila Soueif, sought UK government help as he carried British citizenship since her birth in the UK. Laila passed British citizenship to Alaa and his two sisters so the UK could demand Egypt release and save them from arbitrary arrests. UK pressure transferred Alaa to a less cruel prison. Still, the Egyptian authorities denied him from communicating with the British consulate in Cairo to discuss the legal routes to get him out of Egyptian jail.
The Egyptian government’s insistence on keeping Alaa in prison without free trial has made him think he will remain in jail until death, so he decided to start a hunger strike. Professor Laila Soueif, Alaa’s mother, said today it is hours before her son becomes free either by release or death. Such a tragic statement came after Alaa’s family took every route to rescue him and felt tired without an official response. However, Sanaa Seif, Alaa’s younger sister, continues campaigning within COP27 for her brother and confronting the Egyptian authorities’ agents like lawmaker Omar Derwish and state-sponsored activist Nehad Aboul Komsan. They attempted today to disrupt a press conference held for Alaa’s case.