Fate of jailed political prisoner in Egypt raised at Cop27

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak confirms he spoke with Egyptian president about case of Alaa Abd El-Fattah

British prime minister Rishi Sunak has raised the case of the jailed pro-democracy activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah with Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi at a Cop27 meeting on Tuesday.

There is growing concern about the wellbeing of the British-Egyptian activist who on a hunger strike for six months and refused water on Sunday.

A Downing Street readout of their meeting said Mr Sunak “raised the case of Alaa Abd el-Fattah, stressing the UK Government’s deep concern on this issue.

“The prime minister said he hoped to see this resolved as soon as possible and would continue to press for progress,” it added.


Members of his family waited for hours outside the desert prison where he is being held throughout Monday, hoping to receive a letter that would provide information about his condition.

His mother, Laila Soueif, was “still waiting since the morning in front of the prison for a letter from Alaa.” His sister Mona tweeted in the late afternoon: “Still no sign of anything that could tell us he is fine, not hospitalised, let alone alive.”

As world leaders arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh to begin negotiations on addressing climate crisis, pressure mounted on Mr Sunak to make good on his commitment to Abd el-Fattah’s family to resolve the case.

James Lynch, a former British diplomat and the head of the human rights organisation Fair Square, who travelled with Abd el-Fattah’s youngest sister, Sanaa Seif, to Cop27, said: “I think it’s very clear that lots of people including at very high levels within the British government are personally invested in this case and see the injustice, the need for resolution and are working very hard. Yet there’s a gap here that remains – we still don’t know whether it’s being made clear that this case could have consequences for ‘business as usual’ relations with Egypt.”

Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, who is also presiding over Cop27, rebuffed questions about the case. “I believe we should all concentrate on the task at hand, which is the priorities as they relate to climate change. We have deep bilateral relations with the UK,” he said.

Pressed on the issue of whether Abd el-Fattah’s potential death could overshadow proceedings, he replied: “I am confident that the prison authorities will provide the healthcare, the care that is available to all inmates.” He added that the Egyptian authorities had yet to recognise Abd el-Fattah’s dual nationality, after the activist gained British citizenship last year through his mother while incarcerated.

Abd el-Fattah is a figurehead of Egypt’s 2011 uprising, whose writings on protests, technology and democracy have affected a generation across the Middle East, though he has spent most of the past decade behind bars. Last year, he was sentenced to a further five years in prison for sharing a social media post about torture.

He began a hunger strike in April in protest at his detention conditions, which include the Egyptian authorities’ efforts to prevent British officials from visiting him. – Additional reporting Guardian

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times