By Foreign Policy –
As the world focuses on Egypt for the latest U.N. climate summit, or COP27, it has also zeroed in on Cairo’s troubling human rights record—and, in particular, the uncertain fate of imprisoned British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah.
Amnesty International has warned that Abd el-Fattah—who became a leading activist and public figure during the Arab Spring—may have just days left to live given his deteriorating health. Since April, he has been on a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment and secure his release; on Sunday, he intensified his efforts at the start of the summit and is now refusing to drink water.
“We are running out of time, so if the authorities do not want to end up with a death they should have—and could have—prevented, they must act now,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General. “Twenty-four, 48 hours, 72 hours at the 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 single discussion.”
Hosting COP27 was supposed to be a point of pride for Egypt. But as activists and human rights groups use the high-profile conference to spotlight Abd el-Fattah’s detention, it has become impossible for Cairo to escape international scrutiny of its human rights abuses and sweeping crackdowns.
At COP27, his family has led the charge for his release, both in rallying international support and calling attention to his detention and hunger strike. “We don’t know how he is,” his sister Sanaa Seif declared at a press conference on Tuesday. “We don’t know if he’s alive.”
That outraged an Egyptian lawmaker, Amr Darwish, who yelled at her during the news conference, first accusing her of “summoning foreign countries to pressure Egypt,” and then angrily shouting while guards led him out, the Washington Post reported.
Abd el-Fattah’s case is also proving to be a major diplomatic test for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Sunak has expressed his “deep concern” about the dual British citizen’s fate and hopes for a swift resolution to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Downing Street said, although it’s unclear if that made any difference.
For now, his fate hangs in the balance. Abd el-Fattah “is in great danger,” U.N. Human Rights Chief Volker Türk warned on Tuesday. “I call on the Egyptian authorities to fulfill their human rights obligations and immediately release all those arbitrarily detained, including those in pre-trial detention, as well as those unfairly convicted.”