EGYPT EXPOSED ~ Climate Experts Being Treated as Criminals Ahead of “COP27”

by Duane Nichols on October 22, 2022

Indeed a mistake to schedule COP27 in Egypt

Greenwashing a police state: the truth behind Egypt’s Cop27 masquerade

From the Article by Naomi Klein, Univ. of British Columbia, The Guardian (UK), October 18, 2022

No one knows what happened to the lost climate letter. All that is known is this: Alaa Abd El-Fattah, one of Egypt’s most high-profile political prisoners, wrote it while on a hunger strike in his Cairo prison cell last month. It was, he explained later, “about global warming because of the news from Pakistan”. He was concerned about the floods that displaced 33 million people, and what that cataclysm foretold about climate hardships and paltry state responses to come.

A visionary technologist and intellectual, Abd El-Fattah’s first name – along with the hashtag #FreeAlaa – have become synonymous with the 2011 pro-democracy revolution that turned Cairo’s Tahrir Square into a surging sea of young people that ended the three-decade rule of Egypt’s dictator Hosni Mubarak. Behind bars almost continuously for the past decade, Abd El-Fattah is able to send and receive letters once a week. Earlier this year, a collection of his prison writings was published as the widely celebrated book “You Have Not Yet Been Defeated.”

Abd El-Fattah’s family and friends live for those weekly letters. Especially since 2 April, when he started a hunger strike, ingesting only water and salt at first, and then just 100 calories a day (the body needs closer to 2,000). Abd El-Fattah’s strike is a protest against his imprisonment for the crime of “spreading false news” – ostensibly because he shared a Facebook post about the torture of another prisoner.

Everyone knows, however, that his imprisonment is intended to send a message to any future young revolutionaries who get democratic dreams in their heads. With his strike, Abd El-Fattah is attempting to pressure his jailers to grant important concessions, including access to the British consulate (Abd El-Fattah’s mother was born in England, so he was able to obtain British citizenship). His jailers have so far refused, and so he continues to waste away. “He has become a skeleton with a lucid mind,” his sister Mona Seif said recently.

The longer the hunger strike wears on, the more precious those weekly letters become. For his family, they are nothing less than proof of life. Yet on the week he wrote about climate breakdown, the letter never made it to Abd El-Fattah’s mother, Laila Soueif, a human rights defender and intellectual in her own right. Perhaps, he speculated in subsequent correspondence to her, his jailer had “spilled his coffee over the letter”. More likely, it was deemed to touch on forbidden “high politics” – even though Abd El-Fattah says he was careful not to so much as mention the Egyptian government, or even “the upcoming conference”.

That last bit is important. It’s a reference to the fact that next month, beginning on 6 November, the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt will play host to this year’s United Nations climate summit, Cop27. Tens of thousands of delegates – world leaders, ministers, envoys, appointed bureaucrats, as well as climate activists, NGO observers and journalists – will descend on the city, their chests bedecked in lanyards and colour-coded badges.

Which is why that lost letter is significant. There is something unbearably moving about the thought of Abd El-Fattah – despite the decade of indignities he and his family have suffered – sitting in his cell thinking about our warming world. There he is, slowly starving, yet still worrying about floods in Pakistan and extremism in India and crashing currency in the UK and Lula’s presidential candidacy in Brazil, all of which get a mention in his recent letters, shared with me by his family.

There is also, frankly, something shaming about it. Because while Abd El-Fattah thinks about the world, it’s not at all clear that the world heading to Egypt for the climate summit is thinking much about him. Or about the estimated 60,000 other political prisoners behind bars in Egypt, where barbaric forms of torture reportedly take place on an “assembly line”. Or about the Egyptian human rights and environmental activists, as well as critical journalists and academics, who have been harassed, spied on and barred from travel as part of what Human Rights Watch calls Egypt’s “general atmosphere of fear” and “relentless crackdown on civil society”.

The Egyptian regime is eager to celebrate its official climate “youth leaders”, holding them up as symbols of hope in the battle against warming. But it’s hard not to think of the courageous youth leaders of the Arab spring, many of them now prematurely aged by more than a decade of state violence and harassment from systems that are lavishly bankrolled by military aid from western powers, particularly the US. It’s almost as if those activists have just been substituted by newer, less troublesome models.

“I’m the ghost of spring past,” Abd El-Fattah wrote about himself in 2019. That ghost will haunt the coming summit, sending a chill through its every high-minded word. The silent question it poses is stark: if international solidarity is too weak to save Abd El-Fattah – the symbol of a generation’s dreams – what hope do we have of saving a habitable home?

Mohammed Rafi Arefin, assistant professor of geography at the University of British Columbia, who has researched urban environmental politics in Egypt, points out that “every United Nations climate summit presents a complex calculus of costs and benefits”. There is the carbon spewed into the atmosphere as delegates travel there, the price of two weeks in hotels (steep for grassroots organisations), and the public relations bonanza enjoyed by the host government, which invariably positions itself as an eco-champion, never mind evidence to the contrary.

Yet there are also benefits: the fact that, for those two weeks, the climate crisis makes global news, often providing media platforms for powerful voices on the frontlines, from the Brazilian Amazon to Tuvalu. And there is the international networking and solidarity that takes place when local organisers in the host country stage counter-summits and “toxic tours” to reveal the reality behind their government’s green posturing. And, of course, there are the deals that get negotiated and funds that are pledged to the poorest and worst affected. But these are non-binding, and as Greta Thunberg so memorably put it, much of it has amounted to little more than “Blah, blah, blah”.

With the upcoming climate summit in Egypt, Arefin tells me, “The usual calculus has changed. The balance has tipped.” In addition to the carbon and the cost, the host government – who will get the chance to preen green before the world – is not your standard double-talking liberal democracy. “It is,” he says, “the most repressive regime in the history of the modern Egyptian state.” Led by Gen Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who seized power in a military coup in 2013 (and has held on to it through sham elections ever since), the regime is, according to human rights organisations, one of the most brutal and repressive in the world. Since taking power less than a decade ago, it has built more than two dozen new prisons.

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