Friday is climate protest day, something already classic in the COPs, the UN conferences on climate change. The event, which is usually big on the streets that host the COPs, however, had a very small version this Friday morning (11), inside the complex that hosts COP27, in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt.
Although small, the group was photographed and filmed by an Egyptian security guard, in yet another day of surveillance among civil society protesters who came to the conference.
THE Sheetwho was following the peaceful demonstration of the youth of the Fridays for Future group, which lasted less than an hour, witnessed the moment when a UN human rights observer (United Nations) who was passing by the place caught the Egyptian security guard recording the demonstration with your cell phone.
Asked why he was doing this, the security guard – with his badge inside his shirt – said he didn’t understand English and walked away.
One more security then arrived at the scene. The UN observer asked for the contact of superiors and the names of the men, but got no answers.
The report heard several other reports about the feeling of constant surveillance on members of civil society during COP27.
Egypt is accused of human rights violations and there are estimates that point to tens of thousands of political prisoners. In the country, protests are virtually prohibited due to the various restrictions applied.
That’s why there weren’t and, by all indications, there won’t be demonstrations in the sunny and not very pedestrian-friendly streets of Sharm el-Sheikh, a city full of resorts and often used for conventions.
In theory, there is another location outside the COP space where protests are also allowed. Since the beginning of the conference, the Sheet search for the space, still without success — there is no information about its location, not even among employees working at the event.
“The people who are here at the protest are only the people who were able to access the conference, a restricted access. A lot of people didn’t have the money and credentials to come here. This is a very small community of climate activists”, says Dominika Lasota, 20, Fridays for Future activist.
Also present at the demonstration was young activist Vanessa Nakate, from Uganda. Greta Thunberg, founder of Fridays for Future, is not attending COP this year. Before the event, the Swede justified her absence saying that the conference is a stage for greenwashing.
“We feel that we are being watched by the Egyptian regime,” says activist Helena Marschall, 20. “This is the limited space we have and we try to use it as best we can,” she adds, citing the possibility of protesting only within of the event area.
Activism within the walls of the center that hosts the COP — more specifically the so-called blue area, where climate negotiations take place — has been heavily regulated. In addition to advance notices, demonstrations have limited times.
Ariadne Papatheodorou, 18, says she remembers the intense movement for demonstrations in Glasgow, UK, during COP26. A totally different reality from what she encountered in Egypt.
“We, eight people, sat on the floor to organize something and, immediately, a security guard showed up and started filming us”, says Papatheodorou.
In chants and posters, names of people/politicians, companies, countries and organizations cannot be mentioned.
The Brazilian group Engajamundo held on Thursday (10) an act in memory of murdered environmental defenders. It was not allowed by the UNFCCC (the acronym for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), however, the use of the names of the dead environmentalists.
The activists that the report heard say they have been filmed, photographed and accompanied by security. And not just for security.
One of the people with whom Sheet spoke is part of a group that had private messages exposed on the social media of Egyptian MP Amr Darwish. The politician is the same one who tried to intimidate Sanaa Seif – the sister of British-Egyptian political prisoner Alaa Abd el-Fattah – during a press conference last Tuesday (8) and was removed from the scene by security at the event.
Fattah is on hunger and water strike — in protest against the conditions in which he is in prison — and the family says they have no proof of the activist’s life.
The photos of the group’s messages were taken during an event at Germany’s stand at COP27, which hosted Sanaa Seif and Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. Also an activist, he is being prosecuted and banned from leaving the country.
The event in the German space, accompanied by the report, was packed. In the audience, more than one person from the group of activists had their messages photographed and later exposed, including their names.
In the conversation, the group combined an action on the spot with T-shirts with the expression “Free Alaa”. Darwish, in the post, which already has thousands of likes, comments and shares, uses “#scandal” and says that God wanted to reveal the situation.
The feeling of being watched makes some protesters question themselves. Is this really happening or is it paranoia?
A group with whom the report spoke said that, outside the space of COP27, he was followed to a taxi by a security guard, after having dinner at a restaurant. The same man appeared to be watching and photographing the table as they ate.
THE Sheet also heard complaints about the place where there is material for making posters and other objects. It is, according to protesters, an exposed area, outside the COP zone itself, where people outside the conference can see who is working there.
With all the feeling of observation, there is, according to the young people, a concern —especially in relation to the protesters from the Global South— about returning to their countries of origin.
Even seasoned Egyptian activists say they fear the post-COP. During his speech at the Germany pavilion, Hossam Bahgat stated that he has no idea what can happen to anyone who participates in the events.
The Planeta em Transe project is supported by the Open Society Foundations.