Family fear Egypt activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah “bound to die in prison” as he rejects food, water for COP27


Egyptian pro-democracy activists Alaa Abdel-Fattah, left, and his sister Sanaa Seif are seen in a 2014 file photo posted on Facebook by Seif. The photo was taken when their father, also a human rights activist, died. The siblings had been unable to visit their father in the hospital as they were both jailed at the time.

Facebook/Sanaa Seif

Alaa Abdel-Fattah, a prominent pro-democracy activist who’s been imprisoned in Egypt for much of the last eight years, began refusing all food and water as the United Nations COP27 climate conference began over the weekend, his family said. The goal of his escalating protest is to generate enough international pressure on the Egyptian government to secure his release.

Alaa, a dual Egyptian-British citizen who was an important figure in the pro-democracy “Arab Spring” movement more than a decade ago, has been imprisoned in Egypt for virtually the entire tenure of Egypt’s current authoritarian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, since 2014. Alaa’s family and human rights groups call the charges against him spurious.

“I’m scared for Alaa, but I also really understand his decision for escalation, because he’s bound to die in prison,” his sister Sanaa Seif, who’s previously spent time in an Egyptian prison for her rights activism, told CBS News. “Maybe the way out for him is to kind of fasten the timeline, so that maybe there is enough pressure to save him.” 

Britain Egypt Activist
Sanaa Seif, sister of Egypt’s imprisoned pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, left, poses with Caroline Lucas, a Green Party U.K. parliamentarian, outside the Foreign Office in London, November 1, 2022.

Kin Cheung/AP

Seif, who also holds dual Egyptian-British citizenship, left London late last week to travel to Egypt to attend the COP27 summit as a delegate, where she vowed to continue raising attention for her brother’s case. Her trip came after she spent days camping outside Britain’s Foreign Office.

Arriving on Monday in Sharm el-Sheikh for the summit, Seif told the Reuters news agency she was there “to do my best to try and shed light on my brother’s case and to save him.”  

“I’m really worried,” she said. “I’m here to put pressure on all leaders coming, especially [U.K.] Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.” 

APTOPIX COP27 Egypt Activist
Sanaa Seif, sister of Egypt’s jailed leading pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, who is on a hunger and water strike, leaves Sharm El-Sheikh International Airport in northeast Egypt shortly after arriving, November 7, 2022.


Last week, Seif was told that Alaa was a priority for the British government, and Sunak sent her family a letter saying he would use Britain’s attendance at COP27 as another opportunity to raise the issue.

“I will continue to stress to President Sisi the importance that we attach to the swift resolution of Alaa’s case, and end to his unacceptable treatment,” Sunak wrote.

“Let’s be clear, we’re running out of time. If the authorities do not want to end up with a death they should have and could have prevented, they must act now,” the secretary general of rights group Amnesty International, Agnes Callamard, told journalists in Egypt on Sunday. “If they don’t, that death will be holding on to COP27. It will be in every single discussion — every single discussion there will be Alaa.”

El-Sisi’s government has sought to use its hosting of the COP27 gathering as a “show of force internally,” Seif said, insisting that climate change cannot be meaningfully addressed without political freedom. 

“You’re facing interests, stuff like big oil companies and things like that, and any improvements we will get is because of the pressure of civil society and activists and marginalized communities, vulnerable communities,” she told CBS News. “In order to resolve the climate crisis, we need an open environment where people can express — can call on their politicians, can hold them accountable, and we don’t have that space in Egypt.”

Seif said she still hoped her brother would be freed and allowed to leave Egypt and join his family in the U.K., but if he isn’t, and he doesn’t survive, she said he will have made a difference.

The Egyptian regime “used him to set an example for others… this is something he didn’t choose,” she told CBS News. “I’m proud of him for living up to this example, and instead of becoming an example for oppression, a symbol of oppression, he’s become a symbol of resistance, of resilience.”



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