Written by: Arabelle Liberacki
As the COP27 kicks off, the Egyptian government is attempting to silence their people in the face of a public relations nightmare. In Sharm el-Sheikh, the small strip where the conference is taking place, many preparations have been made to welcome dignitaries and officials from nations participating in the Paris Climate Agreement. As it stands, there is a small space set up for protesters to gather at the COP27 off the side of a highway and far away from anything of significance.
“This could be the most highly surveilled COP in the history of the conference,” said Hussein Baoumi, of Amnesty International. “It’s theatrics, they don’t want to allow the right to protest or the freedom of assembly, but they want it to seem as though they are.” Sharm el-Sheikh is the perfect backdrop to give the world the impression that the Egyptian government views their ideal society as one that can be controlled and manipulated to fit a certain narrative.
The intense surveillance by the Egyptian government has caused issues amongst its citizens. Not only is the location heavily monitored, but the government created an app that serves as a guide for the conference. They’re likely using data collected from the app as a means of surveillance. To download the app, you have to input your full name, email address, mobile number, nationality, and passport number. You even have to enable location tracking. Baoumi added that technology specialists working at Amnesty flagged the app for privacy concerns because of its ability to access the phone’s microphone, location data, bluetooth, and camera.
On Sunday, Alaa Abdel Fattah, a 40-year old Egyptian British activist, began a hunger strike from his jail cell in response to the crackdown on protests. He was arrested in 2021 and sentenced to five years in prison for spreading fake news– a charge that’s taken seriously in Egypt. On Tuesday, UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk urged the Egyptian government to release Abdel Fattah and provide him with medical attention. “No one should be detained for exercising their basic human rights,” he said.
Many leaders have met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sissi and implored him to release Fattah with urgency. U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to lobby him to have a higher regard for human rights when they meet on November 18th. These leaders have set no clear repercussions should Cairo refuse to cooperate.
There is little doubt that the Egyptian government is upset as to the results of the conference. Jean Su, a board chair for Climate Action Network International, said “There is…an intrinsic connection between human rights and climate justice. The credibility of COP27 and its outcomes will be at stake if Egypt fails to respond to the call for the release of Alaa and other prisoners of conscience.”
The lack of intention on behalf of the Egyptian government is telling. Their actions have signaled to the world that human rights are barely on their radar. The Biden administration has been urged to hammer home the message of freeing Abdel Fattah, rather than enable the “greenwashing” of Egypt’s image at the climate summit.
Greenwashing is defined as disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. The Egyptian government is barring NGOs and activists from the COP27 with little explanation. They’ve also begun tearing down residential green spaces to build more commercial areas. These spaces are estimated to contribute far more pollution and emissions than their previous residents.
Other nations are sitting idly by as human rights are degraded in Egypt, instead ignoring the crisis in favor of greenwashed climate talks. It is the responsibility of global leaders and climate focused NGOs to remain diligent in the fight for both. There must be discussion of both at the COP27: “There is something truly perverse in Sissi’s assumption that the world would ignore Alaa’s plight because we were so impressed with Egypt’s ability to hold an international conference,” Allison McManus research director at the Freedom Initiative, a human rights organization focused on the Middle East and North Africa said in an email statement. “As we are seeing, he grossly miscalculated: this COP will be remembered as Alaa’s COP.”