Hunger striker’s sister flies in to Egypt COP27 to campaign for his release

Egyptian-British hunger striker Alaa Abd el-Fattah. /AFP

The sister of Egyptian-British hunger striker Alaa Abd el-Fattah arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday to campaign for his release as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and other world leaders flew in for the COP27 climate summit.

Egyptian-British hunger striker Alaa Abd el-Fattah. /AFP

Sunak has said he will raise Abd el-Fattah’s case with Egypt’s leadership. Abd el-Fattah had informed his family that he would stop drinking water on Sunday in an escalation of his protest.

“I’m here to do my best to try and shed light on my brother’s case and to save him,” said Sanaa Seif, Abd el-Fattah’s sister, after arriving in Sharm el-Sheikh in the early hours of Monday.

“I’m really worried. I’m here to put pressure on all leaders coming, especially Prime Minister Rishi Sunak,” said Seif, who had recently been leading a sit-in outside the British Foreign Office in London.

Abd el-Fattah rose to prominence with Egypt’s 2011 uprising but has been detained for most of the period since. Sentenced most recently in December 2021 to five years on charges of spreading false news, he has been on hunger strike for 220 days against his detention and prison conditions.

Egyptian officials have not responded to Reuters’ phone calls for comment on Abd el-Fattah’s case, but have said previously that he was receiving meals and was moved to a prison with better conditions earlier this year.

Abd el-Fattah’s family said he was only consuming minimal calories and some fibre to sustain himself earlier in the year. After family visits in October, Sanaa Seif said: “He looks very weak, he’s fading away slowly, he looks like a skeleton.”

Some rights campaigners have criticized the decision for Egypt to host COP27, citing a long crackdown on political dissent in which rights groups say tens of thousands have been detained and raising concern over access and space for protests at the talks.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said security measures were needed to stabilise Egypt after the country’s 2011 uprising. Egypt is hoping to raise its diplomatic profile by hosting the United Nations climate talks.