‘He’s Endured Beyond Imagination’: The UK Citizen Fighting for His Life in Egypt

Political activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah is in a prison complex in Egypt known as "The Valley of Hell" for allegedly spreading fake news. He’s on hunger strike to demand better conditions and his legal right to a British consular visit.
Alaa Abd el-Fattah has spent much of the last decade behind bars. Photo: Ed Giles/Getty Images

The family of a British-Egyptian activist who has been on hunger strike for more than 100 days have told VICE World News they believe those in power in Egypt “want him to be kept hidden in prison until he dies”.

Alaa Abd el-Fattah has been fighting for democracy in Egypt for over 16 years. He worked as a software developer and became an influential voice for democracy during the 2011 revolution, which saw the president of three decades Hosni Mubarak resign. 


He’s seen in Egypt as a symbol of resistance. But since the revolution, he’s spent most of his time behind bars. His family say it’s because of his influence in educating those on the margins of society about Egyptian politics and encouraging everyone, young and old, to have a voice. They say that’s why he’s “hated” by Egyptian governments.

“Alaa was vocal and he was active. His thing was blogging and using online platforms and enabling people to use them too as tools for self expression, but also for communication and [political] discussions and organisation,” his sister Mona Seif told VICE World News via phone call. 

In 2019, el-Fattah was arrested for sharing a Facebook post about the violation of rights in Egypt’s prison system. He was detained for two years before being sentenced to five years in prison. During his time in detention and prison, he’s faced having no access to reading materials, being in a cell with no windows, and not being allowed to exercise. 

His sister says the violations he’s faced in prison are part of the reason he started an open-ended hunger strike. The Egyptian government denies the violations.

Seif says seeing her brother go through a hunger strike that has lasted over 100 days makes her “fear for the worst scenario” all the time.

Alaa sisters (via family).jpeg

El-Fattah's sisters are leading the campaign to aid his release. Photo: Supplied

“He has already endured beyond imagination, so I feel like the only choice we have as a family is to support his fight,” she said.


“Sometimes I feel like I want to tell him this [hunger strike] is harsh on us and he should give us more time. But I have to remind myself that I don't know what it's like there. I'm not sure how he has endured all these years in prison and I’m not sure how he maintains his sanity.”

Another crucial reason el-Fattah is on hunger strike is the refusal of Egyptian authorities to grant him a consular visit from the British embassy in Cairo – a visit he has a legal right to. El-Fattah, whose mother was born in London, received his British citizenship last year. Several formal requests have been made by the embassy with no visitation granted.

“He was so tired of waiting for the consular visit,” says Seif. “Despite having finalised the citizenship paper, this was making him more vulnerable rather than actually adding a layer of protection to him. 

“He feels like the Egyptian regime feels like if they can get away with these kinds of violations with a British citizen then that's sort of euphoric and empowering for them. He wants an end to all of this, even if the end is very grim and bleak.”

El-Fattah has said he will take the hunger strike “to the end” but in the last few weeks, he has started consuming around 100 calories a day in the form of a spoonful of honey and skimmed milk to sustain his protest for longer with the hope of seeing a result.

This isn’t the first time he has had to deal with horrific prison conditions. He served a five-year sentence from 2014 to 2019 after being accused of starting an “illegal protest”. Seif says he was arrested unfairly as it was actually her and her colleagues who had organised the protest.


“We submitted everything to show that we are the ones who organised it, they [Egyptian authorities] know we are the ones who organised it, but they wanted Alaa,” she says.

The family pictured in happier times. Photo: Supplied

The family pictured in happier times. Photo: Supplied

His family have been calling for the Egyptian authorities to release him and for him to be safely brought back to the UK. Their campaign, #FreeAlaa has seen support from celebrities like Dame Judi Dench, Mark Ruffalo, and Olivia Coleman.

Over 30 British MPs and Lords have also signed a letter to the Egyptian embassy opposing el-Fattah’s imprisonment as a British national. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss brought up the matter during a recent visit from the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to the UK but the outcome of the conversation is unclear. Truss is currently running to become leader of the UK Conservative Party and UK Prime Minister.

Seif was on hunger strike for 25 days in support of her brother. Her and their other sister, Sanaa, are leading the fight to get him released. They want people to understand their family’s fight and that their brother is not a prisoner, he’s a father to a 10 year-old son, a writer, and a British national.

“Alaa is my older brother,” Seif says. “He's always the one who pampers me and spoils me and he's more of a caretaker and the prison forced a different role on us because all of a sudden, I am more of the caretaker towards him.”