The sisters of a political activist on hunger strike in a notorious Egyptian jail say he may die before the end of the COP27 climate conference.
Pro-democracy activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah, who is a British-Egyptian dual national, was arrested by the Egyptian government in 2019, for sharing a social media post about the violation of rights in Egypt’s prison system.
He first became an influential voice during the 2011 revolution, which deposed the president of three decades, Hosni Mubarak.
But since then, he’s spent most of his time behind bars. His family have accused the Egyptian regime of violations against him and for purposefully preventing him access to a British consular visit.
His sister, Sanaa Seif, says it took 16 days of her camping outside the UK government’s foreign office for senior politicians to answer her calls to help her brother.
Alaa first started a partial hunger strike 216 days ago, taking in around 100 calories a day via a small amount of milk and honey to keep himself alive. But with little progress being made in his campaign to be released, he has told his family he will be starting a full hunger strike on the 6th of November, coinciding with the first day of the UN climate conference in Egypt. The last day of the conference is set for the 18th of November.
“We honestly believe that if Alaa doesn’t make it while COP is taking place in Egypt, if Alaa is not freed by that point, Alaa is going to die in prison,” said Mona Seif, another sister.
“Once Alaa starts his water strike, it will be a ticking clock. It will be a matter of days to either save him or lose him.”
Sanaa is calling for newly instated UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to intervene, as well as other world leaders who will congregate in Sharm el-Sheikh next week.
“I want to tell these officials, if you don’t save him, you will have blood on your hands,” she said during a press conference outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London. “Rishi Sunak, you’re going to be in the same land as a British citizen dying and if you don’t show that you care, it will be interpreted as a green light to kill him.”
She received a call from foreign secretary James Cleverly on the 2nd of November, after weeks of trying, but isn’t convinced that the UK government has a plan.
Mona says there is still time to save their brother, but that time is running out.
She says his body is “in a critical state” and she doubts whether the Egyptian government will even let their family know if his health deteriorates further.
“Alaa is not desperate to die. These are the actions of a man who is desperate to end this ordeal he has been sucked into for 9 years and desperate to be reunited with his family.”
His sisters want both the British and Egyptian governments to remember he is not only an activist and writer, but a brother, son, and most importantly a father.
Alaa is allowed one prison visit per month, with the next one due on the 17th of November, one day before the end of COP27.
Mona is worried the assurances they’ve been given by the UK government, that Alaa’s case is a top priority, are not enough. And that whatever happens to her brother will reflect on other Egyptian political prisoners in similar situations.
“We realise Alaa’s loss is mostly ours as a family,” she says.
“But it’s also a great loss to thousands of people languishing in Sisi’s prison who view our family’s struggle and Alaa’s struggle as an echo of their own.”