Climate Leaders Condemn Egypt's Human Rights Violations

Climate Leaders Condemn Egypt's Human Rights Violations

As world leaders meet in Egypt for COP27, climate activists, including Greta Thunberg, are drawing attention to the host country’s human rights abuses. 1,400 groups and individuals representing 80 countries have signed a petition demanding that Egypt re-open civic space and allow peaceful assembly, as well as release political prisoners being held without legitimate reason.

“Thousands continue to be arbitrarily detained without a legal basis, following grossly unfair trials, or solely for peacefully exercising their human rights,” the petition reads. “Egypt risks compromising the success of the [COP27] summit if it does not urgently address ongoing arbitrary restrictions on civil society.” Under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt holds an estimated 60,000 political prisoners, and has been forced to build 60 new detention centers to hold them all.

Channel 4: Greta Thunberg interview | World on climate precipice but activism offers hope, October 30, 2022.

MSNBC: The Mehdi Hasan Show | The US Has Given Billions To Egypt Despite Human Rights Abuses, September 16, 2022.

HRW: The Real Story Behind Egypt's "Shootouts," September 7, 2021.

Though Egyptian officials have promised to allow civil society groups to participate, the summit is being held in the heavily guarded, remote resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh away from public transportation -- instead of the highly populated national capital, Cairo. In an effort to keep non-state actors out and keep protests limited to climate, the area has been equipped with extensive surveillance technology. Protests will be limited to one designated area far from the conference center, and many events that involved NGOs at previous summits have been canceled.

In a report released in September, Human Rights Watch found that the Egyptian government had targeted climate groups with restrictions, making it difficult for them to obtain funding, and conduct research. Richard Pearhouse, environment director at Human Rights Watch, said that these obstacles had forced “activists into exile,” and made others “steer clear of important work.”

PBS: Human rights case overshadows start of COP27 climate change summit in Egypt, November 7, 2022.

EU Debates: Egypt is using the COP27 to restore its image and hide its catastrophic record on human rights, October 22, 2022

Why This Matters

Human rights groups emphasize that drawing attention to human rights violations will not and should not detract from the climate agenda. After all, climate change is a human rights issue, and a global transition to clean energy is unlikely, unless activists, scientists, and journalists are free to hold governments accountable.

Organizations and officials in the world’s wealthiest countries are particularly under pressure to speak out for the protection of human rights and a productive COP. As Mina Thabet, Middle East and North Africa coordinator at PEN International, told the Guardian: “The regime wants to use the summit to greenwash its grim human rights record, but western countries must take a stance now. We cannot separate climate talks from human rights.”

Democracy Now: Egypt Arrests Hundreds in Crackdown Before UN Climate Summit; Pressured to Free Alaa Abd El-Fattah, November 3, 2022.

A Global Affair

Egypt’s brutal repression is drawing scrutiny from around the world. One activist, Ajit Rajagopal, was arrested for protesting without prior authorization on an eight-day walk from Cairo to Sharm el-Sheikh. An Egyptian journalist Manal Agrama “forcibly disappeared,” after questioning the country's authority to host COP27.

US officials call the country’s relationship with Egypt “complex.” The US State Department has affirmed support for Egypt's leadership on climate change, and provides the nation with $1.3 billion annually in military aid. Most of this money is sent unconditionally, however, $300 million of this sum is contingent on the country’s human rights record.

This year, the State Department planned to send $75 million, citing “clear and consistent” progress and the release of approximately 500 political prisoners, but the funding was blocked by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Senate appropriations committee. “We all have a responsibility to uphold the law and to defend the due process rights of the accused, whether here or in Egypt,” Senator Leahy said in a statement provided to the Wall Street Journal.

60 Minutes: Egypt's President El-Sisi denies holding political prisoners, January 6, 2019.