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Cop27: Egyptian authorities arrest scores of people calling for cost of living protests

Since October, at least 118 Egyptians have been arrested at make-shift checkpoints or taken from their homes
An employee works on the side of a walking area ahead of November's COP27 climate summit, in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, 20 October 2022 (AFP)
An employee works on the side of a walking area ahead of November's Cop27 climate summit, in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, 20 October 2022 (AFP)

Egyptian authorities have arrested at least 118 people in the past two weeks for calling for protests during the Cop27 UN climate conference against the spiralling cost of living.

Since 25 October, at least 118 Egyptians have been charged by Egypt's public prosecution after being arrested at make-shift checkpoints or taken from their homes, Amnesty International's Egypt researcher Hussein Bayoumi told Middle East Eye.

Bayoumi told MEE that the real number of detainees might be higher and that several people were arrested based solely on a photo or a post they shared on social media.

He said that the authorities had referred the detainees to the State Security Prosecution, which is responsible for grave offences such as terrorism.

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"Ironically, there was no mentioning of calling for a protest in the accusation files that we have seen," Bayoumi told MEE.

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"The detainees were accused of the usual charges: belonging to a terror group, without naming which group, spreading false information, and misusing social media platforms," he added.

Egyptian authorities have tightened their grip over protesters in recent weeks as the country prepares to host the Cop27 summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh between 6 and 18 November. 

Cop27 will be attended by world leaders, including UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who previously said he would not fly to the summit.

Some Egyptians have called for protests on 11 November against the dire financial conditions that face much of the country, calling it the "Climate Revolution".

The demonstration, which has no climate-oriented demands per se, is also being referred to as the 11/11 protest.

Egypt's currency, the pound, has lost almost 25 percent against US dollar since January, while banks have struggled to salvage foreign currency to import essential goods such as tea.

"Initially, those detained are under arrest for 15 days for investigation, but that does not mean they will be released anytime soon or during Cop27. Their detention could be renewed without being presented to court," Bayoumi said.

'Egyptians can't reach Sharm el-Sheikh resort. To reach Sharm el-Sheikh, you have to have an invitation to the Cop27 or a booking at a hotel'

- Hussein Bayoumi, Amnesty International

El Shehab for Human Rights, an Egyptian NGO, said in a statement on Wednesday that at least 42 people calling for the protests had been arrested in the coastal city of Alexandria, adding that 200 more such arrests had been made in the Suez governorate.

Another NGO, the Egyptian Front for Human Rights, also said that around 200 people had been detained across the country for publishing videos on social media calling for the protest on 11 November.

Egypt's government, led by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has been under immense pressure to release political and free-speech activists from jails and relax laws constricting protesting in public spaces.

The widespread repression and detentions prompted Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg to boycott Cop27, while 13 winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature addressed world leaders in a letter this week to demand action over the estimated 60,000 political prisoners currently languishing in Egyptian jails.

Sharm el-Sheikh a 'war zone'

Egyptian authorities recently published a set of guidelines on protests during Cop27, asking for 36 hours' notice and the date and time of the protest.

"This is a joke, and these guidelines are geared towards a foreign audience," Bayoumi told MEE.

He added that the area designated for protests, only open from 10am to 5pm, is full of restaurants and cafes.

"Egyptians can't reach Sharm el-Sheikh resort. To reach Sharm el-Sheikh, you have to have an invitation to Cop27 or a booking at a hotel, which currently are all fully occupied," Bayoumi added.

Egyptian authorities have heightened the security presence in and around Sharm el-Sheikh, which sits on the southern Red Sea coast of the Sinai Peninsula.

The tourist town had been described as a "war zone" in recent days as authorities have bussed in police and security, fearing dissent or protests during Cop27.

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