Jailed British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah has ended a months-long hunger strike, his family said on Tuesday, after fears for his health mounted and criticism of Cairo during the ongoing COP27 climate summit.
Abdel Fattah, who ate “just 100 calories a day” for seven months, escalated his strike, first to all food, then water, as the COP27 climate summit opened on November 6 in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
“I ended the strike,” the activist wrote in the letter he gave to his family on Tuesday but was dated the previous day and shared by his sister Mona Seif.
Abdel Fattah, 40, wrote to his mother: “I want to celebrate my birthday with you on Thursday”.
In the dissident’s second letter, which his family received within two days, Abdel Fattah asked his mother to “bring a cake” to her monthly visit to Wadi al-Natroun prison, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of the prison. . capital Cairo.
“I’ll see you on the day of the visit and then tell you everything, and we’ll write long letters again after the visit.”
His sister, who has campaigned for his freedom for years, said she greeted the news with “cautious relief”.
“My heart won’t settle down until Thursday when my mom and sister see him with their own eyes.”
Abdel Fattah has been in the headlines since the UN climate talks began last week in Egypt, which tried to boost its image by hosting COP27 but has come under fire for its human rights record.
Human rights groups estimate that Cairo holds around 60,000 political prisoners, many of them in brutal conditions and in overcrowded cells.
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Abdel Fattah, a key figure in the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, has since spent much of the past decade behind bars.
He is currently serving a five-year sentence for “spreading false news” by sharing a Facebook post about police brutality.
The hashtag #FreeAlaa has been a staple of Egyptian social media for years, but was trending on Twitter for the first time in years when world leaders arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh last week.
Several people raised the case in bilateral meetings with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Friday, most notably US President Joe Biden.
Several speakers at the summit ended with the words “You are not defeated yet” – the title of Abdel Fattah’s book, which he published from behind bars.
Fears had increased that prison authorities would force-feed Abdel Fattah after his mother was told he was being placed “under medical supervision”.
His other sister, Sanaa Seif, was repeatedly harassed by pro-government participants while campaigning for his release at COP27, including a member of parliament who had to be escorted out by UN security forces.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, “state security forces” arrested journalist Ahmed Fayez for allegedly spreading fake news after he wrote a Facebook post “claiming that prison authorities are force-feeding Abdel Fattah.”
On Friday, Mona Seif said the family had filed a new request for a presidential pardon for Abdel Fattah.
This request was echoed by one of Egypt’s most-watched talk show hosts, ardent pro-Sisi Amr Adib.
On Friday, Adib said on prime-time television that the pardon was “primarily in Egypt’s interests.”
After his family announced the end of the strike on Tuesday, Tarek el-Awady – a member of the President’s recently reactivated Paroles Committee – wrote on Twitter that he “hopes the state will take the necessary measures to quickly release Abdel Fattah and other prisoners.” to be pardoned”.