The sister of Egyptian-British hunger striker Alaa Abd el-Fattah has landed in Sharm el-Sheikh to campaign for his release as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and other world leaders began the COP27 climate summit.
“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.
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.
The 40-year-old political activist rose to prominence with Egypt’s 2011 uprising but has been jailed 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 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, Seif said: “He looks very weak. He’s fading away slowly. He looks like a skeleton.”
Some rights campaigners have criticised the decision to allow Egypt to host COP27, citing a long crackdown on political dissent in which rights groups say tens of thousands have been imprisoned and raising concern over access and space for protests at the talks.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has said security measures are needed to stabilise Egypt after the country’s 2011 revolution. Egypt is hoping to raise its diplomatic profile by hosting the United Nations climate talks.
More than 100 world leaders are preparing to discuss a worsening problem that climate scientists call Earth’s biggest challenge – greenhouse gas emissions – which leads to global warming.
The climate events are being held amid multiple global crises surrounding food, energy and rising inflation, and expectations for breakthroughs are seen to be low.
Dozens of heads of states or governments will take the stage on Monday, the first day of “high-level” international climate talks, in Egypt, with more to come in the following days.
“The fear is other priorities take precedence,” top UN climate change official Simon Stiell told a news conference.
The “fear is that we lose another day, another week, another month, another year – because we can’t”, he said.
In 2009, developed countries pledged to provide $100bn a year by 2020 for climate protection in poor countries. The pledge remained largely unfulfilled.
Only 29 of 194 countries have presented improved climate plans, as called for at the UN talks in Glasgow last year, Stiell noted.
French President Emmanuel Macron urged the United States, China and other non-European rich nations to “step up” their efforts to cut emissions and provide financial aid to other countries.
“Europeans are paying,” Macron told French and African climate campaigners on the sidelines of COP27. “We are the only ones paying.”
‘Loss and damage’
Fresh from his election victory, Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is expected to attend the summit later on, with hopes that he will protect the Amazon from deforestation after defeating climate-sceptic leader Jair Bolsonaro.
Sunak, another new leader, reversed a decision not to attend the talks and is due to urge countries to move “further and faster” in transitioning away from fossil fuels.
On Sunday, the heads of developing nations won a small victory when delegates agreed to put the controversial issue of money for “loss and damage” on the summit agenda.
Pakistan, which chairs the powerful G77+China negotiating bloc of more than 130 developing nations, has made the issue a priority.
“We definitely regard this as a success for the parties,” said Egypt’s Sameh Shoukry, who is chairing COP27.
The US and the European Union have dragged their feet on the issue for years, fearing it would create an open-ended reparations framework.
But European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans welcomed the inclusion of loss and damage, tweeting that the “climate crisis has impacts beyond what vulnerable countries can shoulder alone”.