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Alaa Abdel-Fattah: Imprisoned Egyptian-British activist begins “water strike” as COP27 kicks off

  • Emily McGarvey
  • BBC News

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Imprisoned British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah

The sister of the British-Egyptian activist imprisoned in Egypt, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, said that he started a water-drinking strike coinciding with the launch of the COP27 climate summit.

This strike comes as a step in escalating the hunger strike that Alaa had started more than six months ago.

Calls for his release escalated after the opening of the Climate Summit, which will be held in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, on Sunday.

The 40-year-old activist only ate 100 calories during his more than 200-day hunger strike to push the Egyptian authorities to allow him to get support from the British Consulate in Cairo.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he would raise the issue at the COP27 summit.

Alaa, one of the main activists in the January 25, 2011 revolution in Egypt, was currently serving a five-year prison sentence for “spreading false news”.

His sister, Sanaa Seif, warned that her brother’s hunger and hunger strike could mean he might die before the summit ends.

Speaking to Sky News, she urged the British government to take responsibility and demand “to provide us with proof that he is still alive”.

Sunak wrote to Alaa’s family and said that he would discuss the issue of his imprisonment with the Egyptian government and return a refund to his family again at the end of the summit.

He added that the activist’s case was “a priority for the British government as a defender of human rights and as a British citizen.”

Sana, Alaa’s sister, is also a 28-year-old human rights activist. She served three prison sentences in Egypt on charges that fellow activists denounced as bogus. She is still protesting outside the British Foreign Office in London with her family for her brother’s release.

She expressed her fears that British Prime Minister Sunak’s dialogue with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi would come too late.

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Sana Seif, Alaa’s sister

The activist’s aunt, Ahdaf Soueif, told the BBC that the summit might be the last chance to save him and release him.

She urged the British Prime Minister to release her nephew.

“This means that we only have a few days. None of us have any reason to believe that the Egyptian regime will ever release him,” she said.

“He’s known for a while that Alaa has suffered enough, and that he can’t live like this. This is his chance now and really each one of us’s chance to escalate things,” she added.

And she added, “He is betting on us and on the society inside Egypt, which wants his release, and on the international community, which raises the issue and makes a fuss for it.”

She said the UK government could use its influence to get him released.

“It is in the hands of the British government to facilitate it. It will be very difficult for the UK to do business as usual with Egypt unless this issue is resolved.”

And she added, “I think that if the British government was serious, and if Rishi Sunak said so convincingly, Alaa would be on a plane to London.”

Alaa played a major role in the protests that ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011.

He was imprisoned for nine years and was sentenced to another five years in 2021 for “spreading false news” – a charge that human rights groups have condemned as untrue.

Alaa obtained British citizenship in December 2021 from his mother, who was born in London.

Human rights groups said he was one of an estimated 60,000 Egyptian political prisoners, and accused the Egyptian government of trying to “improve the image” of its oppressive reputation by hosting the climate summit.

The Egyptian government insists that there are no political prisoners in the country.

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