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Cop27: Alaa Abd el-Fattah's sister says his death is in 'no one's interest'

Speaking in Sharm el-Sheikh, Sanaa Seif says her hunger-striking brother is an 'innocent man', as UK prime minister and French president also appeal for dissident's release
'I put my hopes in the British delegation because as his sister, I can't give up or tell myself that my brother will die,' said Seif (AFP)
'I put my hopes in the British delegation because, as his sister, I can't give up or tell myself that my brother will die,' said Seif (AFP)

The possible death of jailed British-Egyptian dissident Alaa Abd el-Fattah in prison is "in no one's interest", his sister Sanaa Seif said from the climate summit in Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh, where she had travelled to appeal to world leaders to press for his release.

Following a seven-month hunger strike during which he only had 100 calories per day, Abd el-Fattah stopped drinking water on Sunday to coincide with the opening of the United Nations Cop 27 climate summit in the Red Sea resort.

Widely considered Egypt's best-known dissident, he has been sentenced to five years in prison for "spreading false news", having already spent the better part of the past decade behind bars.

"We are talking about an innocent man who has unjustly spent nine years in prison," said Seif. 

Seif, her sister Mona, her mother Laila Soueif and her aunt, celebrated novelist Adhaf Soueif, have campaigned worldwide for the release of the activist, who gained British citizenship through his UK-born mother in April.

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"We need sensible people to intervene," Seif said in an interview with AFP. "I put my hopes in the British delegation because, as his sister, I can't give up or tell myself that my brother will die."

She acknowledged the risk of travelling to Sharm el-Sheikh, with its heavy security restrictions, saying: "I admit, I was afraid to come. But it's our last resort.

"I came so that Alaa wouldn't be forgotten. I want to remind both Egyptian and British officials that my presence means that someone is dying and that it's possible to save him."

Sunak and Macron appeal

The UN human rights chief on Tuesday called for the immediate release of Abd el-Fattah, following appeals on Monday from British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron.

"UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk has expressed deep regret that the Egyptian authorities have not yet released blogger and activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah," UN rights office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva, adding that "we are very concerned for his health".

She said that Turk had personally spoken with Egyptian authorities to appeal for his release, most recently on Friday.

Sunak raised Abd el-Fattah's case in a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Monday, "stressing the UK government's deep concern on this issue", a Downing Street spokesperson said.

Sunak said he "hoped to see this resolved as soon as possible and would continue to press for progress", the spokesperson said.

However, in a clip that has since gone viral, Sunak refused to answer questions from a reporter from Vice News as to what he was doing over Abd el-Fattah's case.

Macron said he received an assurance from Sisi that the Egyptian president was "committed to ensuring that [the] health of Alaa Abd el-Fattah is preserved".

'Next 24 to 48 hours are crucial'

Former British ambassador to Egypt John Casson warned on Tuesday that the release of Abd el-Fattah had become the defining issue for British-Egyptian relations.

Casson, who was ambassador to Egypt from 2014 to 2018, told the Guardian “the next 24 to 48 hours are crucial” and that now Sunak has had his meeting with Sisi “it is really important today that across the British government system [we] are mobilising to make sure the Egyptian government realise that we mean it”.

Carson also questioned whether Sunak should have met Sisi before receiving assurances over the British embassy getting its basic rights on consular access. 

“The one thing Egypt craves is to be embraced as a normal country again after all the crackdowns in the Arab spring. If we keep giving them what they want for nothing, they will sit back and ask for more,” he told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, three Egyptian journalists said they had begun their own hunger strikes over Abd el-Fattah's fate.

Egyptian journalist Mona Selim told AFP during a sit-in at the journalists' union in Cairo that she and two colleagues had "stopped eating now because Alaa Abd el-Fattah is in danger of dying".

She was speaking alongside Eman Auf and Rasha Azab, the two colleagues who have gone on hunger strike with her.

Selim said that the three are also demanding the "liberation of all prisoners of conscience" in Egypt.

'Continue the fight'

Amnesty International chief Agnes Callamard had on Sunday warned that "there is not a lot of time - 72 hours at best", referring to Abd el-Fattah's possible remaining life expectancy.

In an interview with CNBC on Monday, Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry claimed that the dissident "benefits from all necessary care in prison".

Cop27: Alaa Abd el-Fattah’s sister arrives in Egypt for summit
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Seif nonetheless warned that "the way his case is handled only accelerates the destabilisation of the regime".

She accused Egypt of using the Cop27 summit to "erase its bad reputation in terms of human rights".

"On Monday morning, my mother went to wait outside the prison to check on him after 24 hours without water," Seif said.

By evening, she still had not received word from her son, nor had she been able to deliver the clothes and books she drops off to him every week.

"The ball is in the politicians' court, it is up to them to do their job," Seif continued. "We continue the fight and we must not lose hope."

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