The son of a renowned family of activists and human rights defenders, Alaa Abdelfatá (Cairo, 40 years old) is a computer engineer best known for being one of the icons of the 2011 revolution in Egypt and one of the most prestigious intellectuals in the world. Arab. Due to his political activity and as a writer, however, he has been imprisoned by all the leaders of the country since he was born. And he has spent about three-quarters of the last decade behind bars, becoming the country’s highest-profile political prisoner.
On April 2, given the harsh conditions to which he has been subjected for the last two and a half years, Abdelfatá made the decision to start a hunger strike as a last resort to protest his detention, the inhuman treatment he has received and the systematic violation of their most basic rights. This Sunday he turned 100 days old, and the environment around him warns that he is in a very delicate phase.
“The main risk of a hunger strike is death, but even if that doesn’t happen, it can have all kinds of long-term consequences,” says Omar Robert Hamilton, Abdelfatá’s cousin.
Abdelfatá’s last prison tour began at the end of 2019, just six months after returning to the asphalt after four years in prison. While serving a strict probation regime, the engineer was arrested and held in preventive detention until October 2021. It was only then, shortly before the state of emergency was lifted in Egypt, that he was prosecuted by an emergency court accused posting false information online. And he was sentenced after an express trial to five years in prison, of which the two he had already spent behind bars are not discounted.
As reported by his family, Abdelfatá’s situation in prison worsened worryingly compared to previous occasions since his last arrest. The engineer has suffered multiple physical attacks and has been deprived of basic rights such as exercising, having books or a radio, or being able to see his son in a safe space. On June 25, he served 1,000 days in prison.
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“Everyone feels that Alaa is a symbol of the suppression of the revolution. And that’s why they don’t want to release him. He was an important figure, but [las autoridades] they have turned it into the symbol they believed it to be”, slides Hamilton.
In mid-April, shortly after the hunger strike began, Abdelfatá’s family announced that he had obtained British nationality thanks to his mother, Laila Soueif, a prominent UK-born human rights activist, calling on London intervene to ensure his integrity and his release.
Pressure from the UK
So far, the solidarity campaign has succeeded in getting Prime Minister Boris Johnson – on July 7 he announced that he would remain in office until his party elected a new leader – address your situation with the president of Egypt, Abdelfatá al Sisi, at the end of March. The Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, has also promised to intervene in June and the country’s Foreign Representative for North Africa, Tariq Ahmad, speak about it recently with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.
“The embassy has been very attentive from the beginning, and we feel that they are working to get him out. In London we believe that they are pressing and that there are people in the Foreign Office who really want to get Alaa out. We are only concerned that he is not acting urgently enough, ”says his cousin.
Thanks to pressure, Abdelfatá was transferred in mid-May from a maximum security prison in Cairo to a jail on the outskirts, where his situation has improved, so he decided to go from eating only water and salt to 100 calories a day and give more leeway to those who are campaigning for him without breaking the hunger strike. His entourage, however, denounces that the authorities continue to block many of the objects they send him, including letters, at their discretion, and that they continue to prevent a consular visit.
In addition, the prison and judicial authorities have not recognized that he is on a hunger strike, thus avoiding having to assume his responsibilities. “There is a system in which when a prisoner goes on a hunger strike, they are supposed to be registered and have regular reviews and tests, but none of that is happening,” says Hamilton.
Abdelfatá’s treatment coincides with a campaign by Cairo to brighten the image of his dismal human rights record, and in recent months they have freed dozens of political prisoners and revived a pardons committee. But human rights groups note that the campaign is notable for its opacity and for excluding high-profile Islamist and liberal political prisoners, such as Abdelfatá. “It’s been the message since Al Sisi came to power,” says Hamilton. “What he stands for must be crushed,” he adds.
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