As Egypt hosts COP27, prisoner Alaa Abd el-Fattah risks his life | Human Rights News

The world’s eyes are on Egypt this week, with the United Nations Climate Change Conference – COP27 – going down within the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. But while Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi positions himself as an environmental leader, certainly one of his country’s leading activists may very well be about to die.

Alaa Abd el-Fattah has been on hunger strike for greater than 200 days, in a protest over his imprisonment. But on Sunday – the primary day of COP27 – he stopped drinking water as well. Will the international community do anything to avoid wasting him?

On this episode: 

  • Mona Seif (@monasosh), human rights activist and sister of Alaa Abd el-Fattah

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Full episode transcript:

This transcript was created using AI. It’s been reviewed by humans, however it might contain errors. Please tell us if you could have any corrections or questions, our email is 

Antonio Guterres: President el-Sisi, thanks very much for this excellent hospitality and for this spectacular organisation.

Halla Mohieddeen: That’s UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. He’s among the many world leaders gathered in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt for COP27, hosted this 12 months by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi: We’ve got to ask ourselves an urgent query here: Is it not about time to place an end to all this suffering?

Halla Mohieddeen: But while Sisi positions himself as a pacesetter on climate change, a distinct reality is hidden from view. Activists in Egypt, including many environmentalists, have faced a severe crackdown during Sisi’s presidency. An estimated 60,000 political prisoners are behind bars. And now, during COP, certainly one of them could die on hunger strike. I’m Halla Mohiedeen, and that is The Take.



Halla Mohieddeen: Alaa Abd el-Fattah is one of the well-known human rights activists and young writers in Egypt. He’s also a British citizen. He’s been out and in of prison for much of the last nine years and has been jailed or charged by every Egyptian government in his lifetime. His current charge stems from a Facebook post he reshared. Alaa has now been hunger striking for over 200 days to protest his imprisonment. And since COP27 began on Sunday, he has stopped drinking water as well, hoping to attract more attention to his case with the world’s eyes on Egypt. Without water, the human body can only survive a couple of days. I’m talking to certainly one of Alaa’s younger sisters about what may be done to avoid wasting his life. We recorded this interview on Monday the 7 of November. As of publication, there’s been no proof of life from Alaa since his water strike began.

Mona Seif: I’m Mona Seif. In the meanwhile I feel like my primary identity is that I’m Alaa Abd el-Fattah’s sister. Me and the entire family are attempting to get him out of prison before we lose him completely.

Halla Mohieddeen: Alaa got here to fame in the course of the 2011 revolution that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak.

Mona Seif: He is admittedly one of the distinguished voices that rose in the course of the January twenty fifth Revolution, 2011. And his writings ever since were form of a combination between a diary to what we as a generation were going through and facing, but in addition an expression of voices of lots of us and people individuals who couldn’t speak up.

Halla Mohieddeen: Here he’s back then, chatting with Al Jazeera English. This was on January 29, 2011.

Alaa Abd el-Fattah: I believe every motion taken by the Egyptian people up to now 20 years is now bearing fruit. It’s inconceivable to think about them as failures because they’ve led to what we’re seeing now.

On this file photo taken on May 23, 2015, Egyptian activist and blogger Alaa Abd el-Fattah looks on from behind the defendant’s cage during his trial for insulting the judiciary within the capital, Cairo [Khaled Desouki/AFP]


Halla Mohieddeen: So Mona, life is clearly different now. Can you only refer to us about who Alaa is as an individual?

Mona Seif: He’s the kindest of us three. And I’m not only saying that is an exaggeration, that is the truth. He’s a tremendous father. He’s also one of the best friend of my mother. They’re each geeks. He really has this special reference to every certainly one of us.

Halla Mohieddeen: And for Alaa, this moment is the newest chapter in an extended nine years since Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took power in a military coup.

Mona Seif: Ever since they got here to power, end of 2013, Alaa has been in prison. Even when he was briefly released after ending a full five-year sentence, they re-arrested him again. And our, you understand, family’s entire life has been taken over by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s prisons and courts and police stations.

Halla Mohieddeen: Yeah, just refer to us about his most up-to-date arrest.

Mona Seif: His most up-to-date arrest was really strange and was really unexpected.


Mona Seif: Alaa was released in March 2019 after ending a full five-year sentence. Contrary to the law, he was forced to spend every night in a police station locked. So every night at 6pm he would turn himself into the police station and they might only let him back out again at 6am.

Halla Mohieddeen: This was after he’d accomplished his earlier sentence. But Mona says Alaa used his 12 hours a day of freedom to get his life back on target, especially to reconnect along with his son, who’s now 11 years old.

Mona Seif: But six months later, in September 2019, hastily unexpectedly he was taken from the police station on to state security prosecution, and from then on began this latest trip we’re having with prisons, which was more brutal and more violent than anything we’ve experienced personally as a family.

Halla Mohieddeen: Alaa was sent to maximum security prison. Mona says, together with Amnesty International, that he was tortured. And it took two years simply to learn why: he was charged after resharing a Facebook post concerning the death of a political prisoner. Mona called the trial a sham.

Mona Seif: He’s currently serving a five-year sentence for sharing a Facebook post. It was very weird because also they decided to not count the initial two years he was in pretrial detention. So it’s as in the event that they set the clock to zero again. And it form of hit us. We realised that so long as Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is in power, he doesn’t intend for Alaa to be out of prison in any respect, and that at any time when a case is over, they are going to just strum up a latest case and latest charges and just ensure that he spends the remainder of his life in prison, if not die in it.


Halla Mohieddeen: It’s gonna seem really incredible to lots of our listeners that he’s been subjected to a different prison sentence for simply sharing a post another person wrote on Facebook.

Mona Seif: Well, I understand it seems so incredible. And it might seem so incredible to anyone not living in Egypt and never experiencing the truth of the way it is to be living in a rustic ruled by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi along with his level of brutality and oppression. Truthfully, Alaa is just not the just one like that. Principally, every democracy voice, who had a strong presence during 2011 are languishing in Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s prisons immediately. Writers, journalists, political activists and human rights defenders. But additionally 1000’s of people that were either young activists or not energetic in any respect, who were randomly arrested and who had been sent to prison as well. And particularly with people like Alaa, my brother, they need to set an example because they’re continuously terrified that individuals will repeat their try to change things and overthrow the regime back in 2011.

Halla Mohieddeen: Alaa said as much himself in the course of the revolution.

Alaa Abd el-Fattah: Whoever comes after that’s going to rule in mortal fear of the people. They will remember these scenes without end.


Halla Mohieddeen: Now he’s been on hunger strike, hasn’t he? For quite sometime now.

Mona Seif: Yes. He’s been on hunger strike, which was mostly partial since April. So he was taking 100 calories a day to sustain him and to provide us a probability to strengthen his struggle and hopefully secure his release. He truly believes they meant to depart him in prison until he dies. And I believe that is Alaa’s way of seizing back what power he has left through the use of his body, to fight back against what they’ve decided for him. Especially that he has endured nine years of this and already earlier this 12 months he had told us that he cannot fathom enduring one other 12 months in prison.

Halla Mohieddeen: Now he’s decided to escalate this hunger strike, hasn’t he? He’s not taking in water.

Mona Seif: Yes. So we get a weekly letter. He notified us last week that he’s escalating with the start of COP27. He’s stopping water. So early morning, sixth of November, was the last glass of water he drank. Whenever you stop water, it’s a matter of days and so it truly is now as much as the governments and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who’s in COP27 immediately, to seek out out a way of resolving this quickly with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and getting all out of prison before he dies.

Activist Alaa Abdel Fattah stands in front of a police officer at a court during his trial in Cairo, November 11, 2014.
Activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah stands in front of a police officer at a court during his trial in Cairo, November 11, 2014 [Al Youm Al Saabi Newspaper/Reuters]


Halla Mohieddeen: For the Egyptian government’s part, they’ve been asked about Alaa multiple times in the course of the conference. Here’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry in an interview with US network CNBC.

Sameh Shoukry: I’m confident that prison authorities will provide the healthcare. And the care that is out there to all inmates, as is the case in some other penal system.

Halla Mohieddeen: Shoukry also forged doubt on Alaa’s hunger strike and mentioned the Egyptian government has yet to recognise his British citizenship. Mona says she wishes the world could see just how frail her brother has develop into. She last visited him in September, after not seeing him for a while.

Mona Seif: I used to be horrified at how much weight he lost, and I form of got stuck within the visit, and I kept on telling him, you look so frail, I don’t understand. And after I stepped out of it, all I could consider is that if people could see how he looks. They’d realise the severity of the situation, and I believe that is precisely why they won’t allow the consular visit they usually won’t allow any image or footage of how he looks immediately.

Halla Mohieddeen: You mentioned that Alaa has this British citizenship in addition to an Egyptian one, but do you get the sense that the British government has been, well, doing anything really? Why do you’re thinking that he’s not been given a consular visit?

Mona Seif: The UK government has been asking repeatedly, for a consular visit. but they’ve not done any motion, which makes it look like it is a serious request, and anything within the relations with Egypt, even diplomatically, could be affected.


Mona Seif: While they were demanding consular access, while Alaa’s case was deteriorating, every thing was business as usual between the UK and Egypt, including that their official accounts are promoting tourism videos to Egypt and declaring that they’re investing more hundreds of thousands of kilos in Egypt and so forth. So, I’m not even sure why would the Egyptian government have taken them seriously.

Halla Mohieddeen: Right, The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he plans to lift the problem with Sisi. Do you get the sense the prime minister understands the urgency of this matter?

Mona Seif: I’m glad Rishi Sunak is in COP27 because I truthfully feel like that is our last probability to get Alaa out. But having said so, we’re apprehensive, that them stepping up or them taking it seriously is occurring a little bit bit too late. Because, while the Egyptians are going to attempt to stall as much as possible, and I actually consider they need Alaa to die.


Halla Mohieddeen: After the break, Mona tells us how COP27 is hiding Egypt’s poor record on the environment and human rights.

Halla Mohieddeen: While President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is within the limelight this week for hosting COP27, many activists, including Mona, say the trail to COP has been paved with repression, and Egyptians have paid a high price.

Newsreel: Egypt has launched a crackdown on civil society.

Newsreel: Just days before the UN climate summit begins in Sharm el-Sheikh, a whole lot have been arrested.

Halla Mohieddeen: And Mona thinks the world has turned a blind eye to what’s happening in Egypt.

Mona Seif: It is completely hypocrisy and we’ve got to keep in mind that Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s regime is prospering due to that hypocrisy.


Mona Seif: It’s not nearly COP27. Powerful western governments are willing to show a blind eye about lots of the crimes he committed due to business deals and since he’s a key player within the regional policy. So it is simply natural to expect that the hypocrisy will extend and include COP27. For those who actually take a look at the record of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government, they’ve been anti-green in Egypt. They’ve been removing all of the greenery from town. They’ve been destructing heritage. They’ve been all about constructing more concrete, bridges and prisons and buildings. So truthfully, if there was a serious investment in having a correct conversation concerning the climate crisis in the primary place, they wouldn’t have held it in Egypt obviously.

Halla Mohieddeen: Mona says she thinks the truth will filter through to COP a method or one other – and there are a couple of signs it has. Attendees have noticed that many web sites they need to seek the advice of for information are blocked. The official COP app has been criticised for invasive privacy concerns. And Alaa’s case was mentioned in a gap session, referencing the title of his book, “You Have Not Yet Been Defeated”.


Halla Mohieddeen: Are you able to explain why Alaa’s case has develop into such a difficulty at this climate summit? I mean, what would you say to individuals who say that human rights issues are distracting from the primary issue, which is after all, climate and global warming?

Mona Seif: Truthfully for me, you’ll be able to’t have a serious discussion and a serious attempt at resolving the climate crisis, without it being in an environment of free speech and other people having the ability to talk and have discussions and arguments and organise inside themselves. But additionally, particularly with Egypt, the voices that might be of profit are those in prison. Alaa has engaged with the climate crisis, but not only that. We’ve got Ahmad Badawi, who’s a solar energy engineer – is in prison for years. After we were having constitutional referendum, he raised only a banner on his own within the streets saying “Vote No”, and he’s in prison now for 4 or five years. The truth is the individuals who must be representing Egypt, who must be joining within the discussions and the plenaries and groups in COP27, are those in prison, not Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government and their officials who’re completely not interested about climate crisis or saving the planet.

Activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah speaks in front of a judge at a court during his trial in Cairo, November 11, 2014.
Activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah speaks in front of a judge at a court during his trial in Cairo, November 11, 2014 [Al Youm Al Saabi Newspaper/Reuters]


Halla Mohieddeen: Now you come from a family of activists. Your sister Sanaa has just travelled to Sharm el-Sheikh for the conference to attract attention to Alaa’s situation. But doing that may be a massive risk as well, isn’t it?

Mona Seif: Definitely doing that may be a massive risk. It’s an enormous risk, particularly with Sanaa because, Sanaa our youngest has already been in prison 3 times.

Halla Mohieddeen: God.

Mona Seif: Since Abdel Fattah el-Sisi got here to power, on condition that Alaa is now on a water strike, we all know that we’ve got only a matter of days and so she felt that any risk is price it so long as we don’t actually risk losing Alaa.

Halla Mohieddeen: But you may lose her.

Mona Seif: Yes we could, when it comes to she could get detained. But we talked, me and Sanaa, and we truthfully think that we’ll never be secure unless Alaa is out of prison.

Halla Mohieddeen: It’s, and I’m just speaking personally here, I don’t know if I might have that form of courage and that form of strength that you just and your loved ones are demonstrating here. It’s something I just don’t think I’d give you the chance to do, personally.

Mona Seif: I believe, you actually shall be surprised what you might be able to doing when the people you hold dearest to your heart are at risk. I’m not the identical person I used to be 10 years ago. This journey has been about us developing and discovering latest strengths in ourselves. And so, I understand how people might take a look at our story and feel I could never do that, but I’m seeing so many other families doing amazing things that no person can imagine.


Halla Mohieddeen: You talked earlier about you’ll be able to’t return to a traditional life unless Alaa is freed. I mean, have you ever ever dared to take into consideration what normal life could seem like after this?

Mona Seif: So, I had it for some time, but then when Alaa was re-arrested in 2019, this was completely squashed. I couldn’t give attention to my profession. I couldn’t give attention to my life with my husband. All I could feel was a way of danger and any imagination of a traditional life was completely worn out of my head.

Halla Mohieddeen: But Mona said something shifted around the top of last 12 months, when her family finalised the paperwork for Alaa’s British citizenship, and it finally seemed there is likely to be a way out.

Mona Seif: He feels that for the primary time in years, there’s a chance for him to vary the plan the Egyptian regime has for him, which is to stay in prison until he dies, and he’s trying every thing he has, including putting his life in danger, to seize this chance and be reunited with us as a family and truly have a go at a future away from this madness.

Halla Mohieddeen: Given the value that your loved ones is paying, have you ever ever just wondered, is that this price it?

Mona Seif: Um, no. And I comprehend it’s such a weird thing, and it’s mainly because I don’t understand how else to survive, how else to exist as a human being. Whenever you cope with this type of, you understand, lunacy, you’re feeling comforted even in the event you’re paying a really high price, that no less than you might be sticking to your individual voice and your individual values, and also you don’t get up in the future ever feeling self-loathe. I look back at every thing, and I can’t imagine a moment where you could have acted otherwise.


Halla Mohieddeen: To the generation of 2011, Alaa is an iconic figure. I would like to know what you’d say to Egyptians who need to support him and other prisoners but are afraid that they’d find yourself in prison themselves or risk their families who’re still in Egypt. What would you say to them?

Mona Seif: I might say I understand. I understand fear. I don’t think anyone could really understand how violence became such a traditional a part of our day by day life in Egypt. And the way fear rules every thing all over the place. And never just on politics – in academia, in people talking on Facebook, people even discussing television series. Every thing, every thing. Someway this regime finds a way of individuals ending up in prison for it. We get lots of love and support from people who find themselves unable to talk up in Egypt because they’re afraid of the results. So, I truthfully understand, and I feel prefer it is as much as others, especially people from all over the world who’re watching this and who’ve less to risk to assist us raise the problems and the stories of those in Egypt, and people in prison until something major shifts and changes.

Halla Mohieddeen: And that’s The Take. This episode was produced by Ashish Malhotra, Alexandra Locke and Negin Owliaei with Ruby Zaman, Chloe K Li, Amy Walters, and me, Halla Mohieddeen. Alex Roldan is our sound designer. Aya Elmileik and Adam Abou-Gad are the Take’s engagement producers. And Ney Alvarez is Al Jazeera’s head of audio. We’ll be back on Friday.

Episode credits:

This episode was produced by Ashish Malhotra, Alexandra Locke and Negin Owliaei. Ruby Zaman fact-checked this episode. Our production team includes Amy Walters, Alexandra Locke, Chloe K Li, Ashish Malhotra, Negin Owliaei and our host Halla Mohieddeen. Our sound designer is Alex Roldan. Aya Elmileik and Adam Abou-Gad are our engagement producers. Ney Alvarez is Al Jazeera’s head of audio.


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