A renaissance man in terms of revolutions, Alaa Abd el-Fattah’s name has popped up sporadically over the course of the last decade. The blogger, activist, and software activist has been sentenced, freed, and resentenced several times by Egyptian authorities. Influential on a global scale and resented by multitudes of Egyptian regimes, Abd el-Fattah has been of particular relevance in recent weeks due to his dry hunger strike while in prison.
Born to parents of academic and political backgrounds, Abd el-Fattah emerged as a pro-democracy activist in the midst of the Egyptian uprising in 2011 – a series of events that culminated in the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak after a lengthy 30 year reign. After this regime change, Abd El-Fattah has lived largely within the confines of a prison cell, as he was jailed in 2015 by the current el-Sisi regime for violating protest laws. Abd el-Fattah remained imprisoned until his probation in March 2019, but was later rearrested in December 2021 under the charge of “spreading fake news.” Human rights advocates have called his arrest legally unfounded and a reprisal by el-Sisi for his active participation in the 2011 uprising.
Strikes & Recent Developments
In recent weeks, Abd el-Fattah has decided to embark on a hunger and water strike to protest his treatment in jail and the illegality of his arrest, shortly after being granted U.K. citizenship per petitions from his family. Since this development in his international allegiances in the Western world, foreign countries and international organizations around the globe have started to pay closer attention to his maltreatment behind bars. Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, has stated “his…strike puts his life at acute risk [now]” and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office “[hopes] to see this resolved as soon as possible and [will] continue to push for progress.”
Many speculate that international organizations and officials are beginning to speak up since COP 27 has ended, with the convening offering a unique opportunity to place the spotlight on Abd el-Fattah’s cause. Taking place in Sharm el-Sheikh, President el-Sisi had hoped that the hosting of the conference on Egyptian soil would bring his regime legitimacy on the world stage. Yet, the choice has instead allowed critics of el-Sisi and activists to bring attention to Abd el-Fattah’s situation, with journalists pitching pressing questions about his fate and his family speaking freely to international press on his conditions and rights.
With COP27 having concluded on November 18th and Abd el-Fattah still imprisoned, prospects for a change of heart for el-Sisi due to external pressure look rather slim. However, in prior high-profile cases like this one, several dual nationals (those with Egyptian citizenship and a foreign country, a category which Abd el-Fattah now fits under thanks to his new U.K. status) have been freed from prison after relinquishing their Egyptian citizenship, a legal maneuver that allows deportation for foreigners. In 2020, Egyptian-Americans Mohamed Amashah and Reem Desouky, after renouncing their Egyptian citizenship, were both freed after being charged with similar crimes as Abd el-Fattah. If there is to be a legal remedy to this situation, this seems like a legitimate route to embark on to resolution.