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Sisters of Alaa Abd El-Fattah Stage Sit-In in U.K. Demanding His Release from Egypt Prison Before COP27

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The family of imprisoned Egyptian human rights activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah has been staging a sit-in outside the British foreign office to demand the government help release him. El-Fattah, who was recently granted British citizenship, has been on hunger strike for over 200 days to protest being held in harsh conditions during his seemingly endless jail sentence in Egypt. “We’re not sure how much time is left. We’re not sure how much his body can take,” says his sister, Sanaa Seif.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

The next U.N. climate summit begins in just over two weeks, November 6, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. A broad coalition has appealed to the military dictatorship of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to allow participation of civic and environmental groups, and for the release of Egypt’s many political prisoners, including the human rights activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah. He’s one of Egypt’s high-profile political prisoners, rose to prominence during Egypt’s 2011 uprising.

ALAA ABD EL-FATTAH: [translated] We’re here to say that the revolution must continue. We know that there’s still injustice. The revolution is great and has achieved a lot of big things because of all of our effort, but, as you know, injustice is still rife.

AMY GOODMAN: Alaa has been in prison for most of the last decade. He is now serving a five-year prison sentence, convicted of, quote, “undermining national security.” Yes, in prison for most of the past decade for his activism. He’s been on a hunger strike now for over 200 days.

Earlier this week, his sisters, Sanaa and Mona Seif, began a sit-in outside the British foreign affairs office to demand Britain help secure the release of Alaa, who, like them, has British citizenship. During a recent web event hosted by The Intercept, Mona Seif read a letter that Alaa had sent from prison.

MONA SEIF: The first idea in the letter was that the Global West and North will not do anything that involves a sacrifice of prosperity or competitive advantage, nor will they gamble with their political institutional stability. This isn’t just because of the greed of big capitalists, but because of the composition of the societies. Decision-makers know this. They accept it, and they reproduce it. The only actions they can take are actions that are potentially profitable, like the dream of green economy, or that tap into technical solutions that don’t require social change.

The last part of the letter said that we Africans — mainly Africans because the Arabs at this juncture will be bogged down with the petroleum state’s efforts to maximize their economic gains and translate them into ever more extreme strategic adventures for fear of the consequences of the shift away from fossil fuels, i.e. for fear of having to face the realities of the desert without petrodollars. We Africans, well, we don’t have any real impact. We’re not the cause of the disaster. We have no leverage. We have no leverage over the countries that are the cause. We don’t have the way to propose solutions, nor, sadly, the institutions necessary to protect our continent and societies from the looming catastrophes.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, that was Mona Seif reading a letter from her imprisoned brother Alaa Abd El-Fattah.

We’re joined now by Alaa’s sister Sanaa, who joins us from London, where she and Mona have been conducting a sit-in in front of the British foreign affairs office. We’re also joined by Naomi Klein, senior contributing writer at The Intercept and University of British Columbia professor of climate justice. Her new piece is published by The Intercept and The Guardian, headlined “Greenwashing a police state: the truth behind Egypt’s Cop27 masquerade.”

But we’re going to Sanaa first in London. Thank you for walking over to the studio as Mona holds down the sit-in fort, so to speak, in front of the foreign affairs office, Sanaa. Talk about why you’ve begun this protest.

SANAA SEIF: Hi, Amy. Thank you.

I began it because Alaa continue 200 days of partial hunger strike, and I’m really worried that we don’t have much time left, but also because in 20 days — well, now 17 days — our government here will be sending a delegation to COP, to the U.N. climate conference, and I’m really worried about if they just go and engage diplomacy as usual, that the Egyptian authorities will take this as a green light to let Alaa die. And so I want to put pressure on the Foreign Office so that they put Alaa high up on their agenda on their trip to COP.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, I should say, Sanaa, you yourself were in prison for over three years. Now you’re out and have just led a campaign, were recently in the United States, where we interviewed you. You’ve been speaking with many congressmembers. Now in London. Talk why Britain is so important for your brother’s release. Talk about all of your citizenship.

SANAA SEIF: Yeah. Me and Alaa, we’re dual nationals. We’re Egyptian and British. And so, the British government is basically negotiating on our behalf, on the family’s behalf. There has been precedents before with the French, with the Americans, political prisoners in Egypt, that their other government would negotiate their release, and they would be, like, extradited, sent to, deported to their other country of residence — technically, as criminals, but, of course, when they go to the other country, they’re not regarded as criminals. And that’s what we’re pushing the British government to do, to negotiate for Alaa’s release, to basically say, “We want our citizen.”

What’s happening is that the Egyptian authorities are very reluctant, and they’re not even allowing the British Embassy to visit Alaa in prison. They’re not allowing them consular access. And now they’re just bluntly saying that “We don’t acknowledge Alaa’s British citizenship,” because he hasn’t — like, he did not take the Egyptian authority’s permission to apply for British citizenship. So, the Egyptian authorities are escalating, and the British are not pushing back.

AMY GOODMAN: And what does this change of prime minister mean for you? I mean, I assume that people are racing past you up and down the stairs of the British Foreign Office, not covering you, but covering what’s going on with Liz Truss resigning. What role did they play in granting him citizenship? And what does this mean? Is this a setback, or will it help?

SANAA SEIF: The people I am sitting to be a reminder for are actually civil servants, so my sit-in still is valid. But, of course, the instability — and it’s been since also like the last days of Boris — the instability makes the Egyptian authorities kind of don’t take you as seriously. What happened to the British pound was like the negotiations, the IMF negotiations. We heard that the Egyptian officials were saying, like — were making fun of the British pound. So, it doesn’t help Britain’s image in the world, in general. But the people I’m trying to put pressure on are still in office. And they’re mainly the civil servants who prepare the paperwork and who give the advice for whoever will be minister. So, it’s still valid.

AMY GOODMAN: And members of Parliament, like David Lammy, have joined you at your sit-in. Now, I wanted to ask about Alaa’s health, 200 days on hunger strike, and where he’s being held. How is he?

SANAA SEIF: So, Alaa has been living on 100 calories a day. So his body took time, the hundred kinds of liquid — basically, honey on his tea, or skim milk. So, the degradation, like, it was slow. But last I saw him was in August, and he already looked very weak. My mom saw him recently, because she’s in Cairo. She said he basically looks like a — he looks like a skeleton. He looks like skin on bones. His mind is still alert. He feels better than he looks. And he says that he thinks he can endure more. But he looks really scary, and we’re not sure how much —  how much time is left. We’re not sure his body can take how much longer.

And the prison authorities — like, the prison administration will not acknowledge Alaa’s hunger strike, so they don’t do any medical checkups or any of that. They even sent like a fraudulent medical report to the British Embassy in July, dated — on a date where Alaa wasn’t checked. And so, I’m really worried that — when, because it’s inevitable. Sooner or later, it will happen, and it’s probably very soon. When Alaa’s body collapses, I’m not sure if they will act urgently. But the thing that I always remind myself of and to calm myself is that there is a camera 24/7 in Alaa’s cell. Of course, that’s a bad thing for any normal inmate, but in our case this should mean that Alaa is under supervision. But yeah, the situation is desperate.

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Egypt’s Carceral Climate Summit: Naomi Klein on the Crisis of COP27 Being Held in a Police State

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