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Act by Egyptian political prisoner on hunger strike causes turmoil at COP27; watch video


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A member of the Egyptian parliament named Amr Darwish riot and managed, for a few moments, to interrupt the speeches of British-Egyptian activist Sanaa Seif at COP27 (UN climate conference), in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. The man was removed from the scene by security guards at the event.

Sanaa Seif is the sister of Alaa Abd el-Fattah, a political prisoner in Egypt who has been on hunger strike for more than 200 days and who, during the COP, also stopped drinking water.

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Seif went to COP27 this Tuesday (8) to comment on his brother’s situation. Visibly shaken, with a choked voice, the activist said she did not know if her brother was still alive. She said her mother is outside the prison waiting for proof of life.

After Seif had spoken for about ten minutes, the event organizers let the audience ask questions. Amr Darwish was then the first to take the microphone. He started by saying that he would speak in Arabic, not English. Seif tried to start a translation, but was interrupted by the man, who continued to speak.

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Then a second man, also as a host country credential, started speaking in Arabic.

According to an abridged translation made by Seif, both stated the same thing: that Fattah would not be a political prisoner.

Then Amr Darwish rose to his feet and raised his voice. An argument broke out and a security guard pulled the man away.

“You’re in Egyptian land, don’t touch me,” Darwish said as he was led out of the meeting.

THE Sheet, who was accompanying the session, recorded the discussion on video. See below.

Amr Darwish is a member of the Egyptian House of Representatives and also a member of the Coordination of Youth and Political Parties. He arrived this Tuesday morning in Sharm el-Sheikh, the city that hosts COP27. In one post, Darwish refers to Seif’s lines as “misleading”.

Abdel Fattah is a democratic activist and was one of the main figures in the popular uprising that led to the fall of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011, during the Arab Spring demonstrations.

Detained since 2019, he was convicted of “spreading false information”, one of the generic charges the Egyptian government often uses for political arrests.

The country is commanded by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former army security chief who came to power in 2013 after a coup d’état.

President al-Sisi has banned public demonstrations and protests in Egypt, a country that, according to human rights organizations, may have more than 60,000 political prisoners, Fattah being one of the best known.

It is not the first time that Fattah has been imprisoned under al-Sisi’s rule. Between 2014 and 2019, the activist was arrested after participating in a demonstration. Shortly after his release, he ended up in prison again, this time after posting on social media.

Because he has British nationality, acquired last year, Fattah can have his freedom negotiated by the United Kingdom. His hunger strike began in protest of the conditions under which he was treated, including being denied access to British authorities.

In May, Fattah was transferred to a prison with a medical center. According to his family, he now had a mattress to sleep on.

The arrival of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to COP27 raised the possibility of advancing in negotiations for the release of Fattah. Sunak —who even considered not being present at the current conference— even sent a letter to the political prisoner’s family on the eve of traveling to the COP.

Sunak claims in the correspondence that he is committed to solving the case. He called the matter “a priority for the British government”, according to The Guardian newspaper.

The British prime minister met with al-Sisi on Monday (7). In a statement, the British government says that the issue of the political prisoner was addressed at the meeting, a “case of deep concern”. The note says Sunak would continue to press for progress.

Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister and president of COP27, was even asked by CNBC about the serious situation of the political prisoner, since, without even drinking water, he could die during the climate conference.

“I think we have to focus on the mission at hand, which are the priorities, considering they are related to climate change. We have deep bilateral relations with the UK,” Shoukry said.

The Planeta em Transe project is supported by the Open Society Foundations.

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I have worked as a journalist for over 8 years. I have written for many different news outlets, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and CNN. I have also published my own book on the history of the world. I am currently a freelance writer and editor, and I am always looking for new opportunities to write and edit interesting content.

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