US President Joe Biden and other U.S. officials cozied up to Egypt’s Sisi at COP27 while occasionally “raising” the issue of human rights. Away from COP27, Alaa Abdel Fattah sent his family a letter, the first they have received since he began a full food and water strike in prison
Before his bilateral meeting with President Biden on 11 November, Sisi said that he welcomed the chance to talk about human rights but that “I don’t think it is appropriate for us to take the whole time to talk about this issue.”
However, Biden’s readout of the discussion said that he “raised the importance of human rights and respect for fundamental freedoms.”
When asked afterwards whether they had discussed imprisoned writer Alaa Abdel Fattah, whose condition was then unknown during a water strike, Biden responded, saying:
“What we talked about is the relationship between the United States and Egypt.”
He then patted his counterpart on the back.
Former political prisoner in Egypt and Belady Foundation founder tweeted saying: These pictures in COP27, coming out of an admin that claimed there are no free checks to dictators are disgraceful. Maintaining strategic relations is one thing, and embracing dictators is another.
“Further, this dictator had imprisoned me and mohamed Soltan another American, for years on trumped up charges. He continues to hold tens of thousands of women, men, and children in prison, tortures them and disappears them, including climate Justice activists, and British Egyptian activist, Alaa,” she said.
“If we’re not speaking humanely, let’s speak strategically: This warmth demonstrates not only that demands for better human rights, but also fighting climate change, are nothing but lip service. Quite disappointing,” she added.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, on the other hand, stated before the bilateral meeting that the administration “would like to see Alaa Abdel Fattah freed” and is “in high-level communication with the Egyptian government on this case.”
After Biden met with Sisi, Sullivan added, “We are doing everything we can to secure Abdel Fattah’s release, as well as the release of a number of other political prisoners.”
Sullivan also revealed that the Biden administration had no further information on Abdel Fattah’s condition.
“The Egyptians have one story on this. Obviously his family has a totally different story. And this is a circumstance where it’s not ‘trust but verify,’ it’s ‘verify.’ And we’ve not been able to do that,” he said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and USAID Administrator Samantha Power both met with Egyptian human rights defenders.
Power expressed the United States’ “deep concern” about Abdel Fattah and other political prisoners, while Blinken stressed that “human rights are a U.S. foreign policy priority, and civil society remains an essential partner.”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said that her congressional delegation “discussed our concerns regarding human rights” with al-Sisi, later revealing that she addressed Abdel Fattah’s case specifically.
She also met with Abdel Fattah’s sister Sanaa Seif and several other human rights defenders.
While much of the U.S. delegation in Egypt was reserved in its criticism of the regime’s human rights abuses, voices back in Washington have been more strident.
Ahead of Biden’s trip, 56 Democratic lawmakers sent the president a letter urging him to push Egypt’s government to release its political prisoners and allow the full participation of civil society at COP27.
Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), among others, called for the release of Abdel Fattah in particular.
“Tens of thousands of political prisoners are stuck in horrifying prisons in Egypt while the dictator [al-Sisi] throws a huge party for world leaders at COP27 (where corporate polluters are welcomed with open arms),” Tlaib added.
Former political prisoner Higazi, meanwhile, launched a sit-in to call for release of Egypt’s prisoners of conscience outside of the Egyptian embassy, which was also the site of more acts of protest.