“No one knows what happened to the lost climate letter. All that is known is this: Alaa Abd El Fattah, arguably Egypt’s highest profile political prisoner, wrote it while on a hunger strike in his Cairo prison cell last month.” – Naomi Klein, “From Blah, Blah, Blah to Blood, Blood, Blood”
In 2015, at the notorious now-closed penitentiary on Alcatraz Island, I attended the amazing exhibit by Chinese artist/activist Ai Wei Wei, which was focused on modern political prisoners around the world. In one area, Wei Wei had a single chair placed in each of several tiny barren cells. As I and other visitors took turns sitting on these chairs, a soundscape began in the voice of a particular prisoner of conscience: music, poetry, speeches, and life stories. It was beautiful and horrifying. In another area, portraits of 174 political prisoners were recreated with Legos. Among these portraits was that of Alaa Abd El-Fattah.
And who is El-Fattah? A leader of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, author of the essay collection (some smuggled from prison) “You Have Not Yet Been Defeated,” and a political prisoner for the last decade, he organized protests calling for an independent judiciary. The repressive government accuses him of supposedly “spread[ing] fake news” — sound familiar? El-Fattah holds both British and Egyptian citizenship, but has yet to meet with British attorneys. His absence will shadow COP27. Currently on a hunger strike of many months, El-Fattah does not believe he will leave prison alive. Once a week he is allowed to send and receive letters — but his recent letter with his reflections on the immense, devastating floods in Pakistan, and the suffering of people in the Climate Emergency, has disappeared.
Meanwhile COP27 is a gold mine of financial opportunity for the oppressive Egyptian regime. (Click on the Naomi Klein article linked above for more info.) Carefully screened “Egyptian youth leaders” will be showcased, while El-Fattah and 60,000 other political prisoners, many of whom were young activists during the 2011 Revolution, are imprisoned and tortured. Only international solidarity can save Alaa Abd El-Fattah.
The struggle for human rights and freedom of expression is inextricable from the global movement for climate justice. In England, Extinction Rebellion continues to organize actions on his behalf. Here in Portland, in the middle of COP27, XRPDX and allies will hold a rally in Pioneer Square highlighting El-Fattah and other political prisoners and victims of state repression on COP27 Global Day of Action, November 12, noon. Let our voices ring out: Free Alaa! Free political prisoners and environmental defenders!
“You Have Not Yet Been Defeated,” translated from Arabic by an anonymous collective, is available at Powell’s Books and at the Central and Hillsdale branches of Multnomah County Library.