SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt – It’s unlikely that world leaders, government negotiators, climate scientists and other dignitaries will see his name anywhere in Sharm El Sheikh, the beach resort hosting the COP27 summit. But Alaa Abdel FattahEgypt’s most prominent revolutionary voice, and its most famous political prisoner, feels his absence.
Mr. Abdel Fattah, an activist and software developer who has been imprisoned for most of the past nine years for condemning Egypt’s authoritarian government, went on a hunger strike in April, hoping to pressure officials to release him. For nearly seven months, he has been consuming only milk, honey and tea. In late October, his family said he had stopped eating altogether.
On Sunday, he’s starting to refuse water, possibly nearing death as the United Nations climate conference kicks off.
“I made the decision to escalate at a time I saw fit for my struggle for my freedom and the freedom of” other Egyptian prisoners of conscience, Mr. Abdel Fattah’s family said he wrote in his last letter to them, which they received last week. He described his fellow prisoners as “victims of a regime that is unable to deal with its crises except through repression, and can only reproduce itself by imprisonment.”
The spotlight on COP27 provided an opportunity for Mr. Abdel Fattah’s supporters. The government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, mindful of its international image, was releasing dozens of other well-known political prisoners as the summit approached. Sensing an opportunity, Mr. Abdel Fattah’s family enlisted Nobel laureates, celebrities and prominent climate activists to demand his release and pressure senior politicians in Britain, where he holds dual citizenship, to raise the issue with the Egyptian government.
But it was all in vain: Egyptian officials denied that Mr. Abdel Fattah was on a hunger strike, or until recently, held any political prisoners at all.
Earlier this year, the Egyptian authorities transferred him to another prison and improved his conditions of detention, lifting a strict ban on books, newspapers, hot water, bedding and outdoor exercise that partially led to his hunger strike. However, they continued to ban visits from British consular officers.
The political chaos has not helped Britain, which has had three prime ministers since September. The new British leader, Rishi Sunak, wrote in a letter on Saturday to Sana Seif, one of Mr. Abdel Fattah’s sisters, that he would “continue to stress to President Sisi the importance we attach to the speedy resolution of Alaa’s case, and an end to his unacceptable treatment.”
Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called again on Monday for Mr. Abdel Fattah’s release. “I strongly believe he should be released and consulate access,” Johnson said at an event hosted by the New York Times on the sidelines of COP 27.
But Ms. Seif and her family said that bringing up Mr. Abdel Fattah’s case at COP27 may be too late.
Born into a family of dissidents, Mr. Abdel-Fattah came to prominence during the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt in 2011, when he participated and wrote regularly about mass anti-government protests under the Twitter Alaa title. His revolutionary activities made him a hero to many young Egyptians and a target of the authorities: he was arrested in 2006, 2011 and 2013 for various protests, critical articles and social media posts. His latest arrest came in September 2019.
He was held for two years without trial before being tried and quickly convicted in December 2021 for posting on Facebook about rights abuses in prison.
Max Perak Contribute to the preparation of reports.
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