As the COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh takes place, Egypt’s authoritarian regime stands accused of human rights abuses.
Sahar Aziz, a professor at Rutgers University in the US, says “the Egyptian government has given summit access only to local governmental NGOs that support the regime”. The Egyptian regime, he points out, has treated civil society as “enemies of the state”. Hosting the event seems like a political cover for its self-defeating repression of civil society, writes Aziz, author of ‘The Racial Muslim: When Racism Quashes Religious Freedom’.
Amnesty International (AI) said the arrest of hundreds of people in the past two weeks alone, in connection to calls for protests during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP27), is a reminder of the grim reality of Egypt’s policy of mass arbitrary detention to crush dissent.
At least 151 detainees are currently being investigated by the Supreme State Security Prosecution, while hundreds more have faced shorter arrests and questioning.
“The arrest of hundreds of people merely because they were suspected of supporting the call for peaceful protests raises serious concerns over how the authorities will respond to people wishing to protest during COP27 – an essential feature of any UN climate conference”.
“The Egyptian authorities must allow peaceful demonstrators to gather freely and refrain from using unlawful force or arbitrary arrests to deter protests,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director. “World leaders arriving in Sharm El-Sheikh for COP27 must not be fooled by Egypt’s public relations (PR) campaign. Away from the dazzling resort hotels, thousands of individuals including human rights defenders, journalists, peaceful protesters and members of the political opposition continue to be detained unjustly,”
“They must urge President Abdelfattah al-Sisi to release all those arbitrarily held for exercising their human rights. As a matter of urgency, this should include imprisoned activist Alaa Abdel Fattah..."
In the run up to the climate summit (6 November-18 November), Egyptian authorities released 766 prisoners following a decision by President al-Sisi to reactivate a Presidential Pardons Committee (PPC) in April, said Amnesty International.
Yet over the same period, Amnesty International has documented the arrest of double that number; 1,540 people who were questioned over the exercising of free speech and association.
In the past six months, Amnesty International has gathered data from dozens of lawyers who regularly attend interrogations and detention renewal hearings, reviewed court decisions and other official documents, and interviewed former prisoners as well as relatives of detainees. In recent weeks, security forces have arrested and detained hundreds of people in downtown Cairo and town squares across Egyptian cities over content on their phones — a tactic often employed by police ahead of expected protests. While most were released within hours or days, some were taken to prosecutors, while others remain subject to enforced disappearance according to lawyers
Mandeep S. Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, explained that hosting a global conference such as COP 27 places a special obligation on Egypt’s government to respect and enable the exercise of fundamental freedoms as per international law.
“The right to protest peacefully and the right against arbitrary detention are essential elements of international law. In the present instance, Egypt’s government can easily order the release of arbitrarily imprisoned prisoners of conscience and allow protests to take place without impediments as a sign of good faith,”
Human Rights Watch said Egyptian authorities escalated the use of abusive Emergency State Security Courts to prosecute peaceful activists and critics who joined thousands of dissidents already in the country’s congested prisons. And Courts issued death sentences in mass trials, adding to the sharply escalating number of executions.
Gadir Lavadenz, Global Coordinator, Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice and Lidy Nacpil, Executive Director, Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development, write: climate conferences are increasingly becoming spaces for greenwashing of not just the big polluters’ crimes, but also of the regimes and presidencies hosting COP.
The official COP app requires access to the user’s location, their email, and their photos. The wi-fi at COP is apparently restricting access to human rights organizations and some news organizations. According to the website of the Egyptian presidency for COP27, anyone wishing to organize protests in Sharm El-Sheikh must inform the authorities 36 hours in advance and show the organizers a COP27 badge. Protests will only be allowed between 10:00-17:00 in an area far from the conference and monitored by cameras. The authorities have also limited the content of protests to climate-related issues.