The Climate Change Conference COP27, which begins today in Sharm el-Sheikh, comes at a key moment in the shared international fight against the climate crisis. As an Arab and African country, Egypt is taking on a particular responsibility and leadership role by hosting this conference, something that I expressly welcome.
Climate action is sustained by close liaison between political institutions and civil society, and so progress in this area is heavily dependent on participation for all. International events such as the United Nations Climate Change Conference must open their doors to everyone who works on these issues or is interested in them, so that the official representatives of the negotiating states can explain and advocate their approaches to solving the climate crisis to civil society representatives. We can only succeed in tackling the climate crisis if we are able to freely discuss ideas and approaches. Where the fear of repression prevails, on the other hand, civic engagement cannot endure.
A significant event such as COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh inevitably puts the host country and all of its different facets in the spotlight. Taking on global responsibility means, not least, taking on responsibility for protecting human rights. But the human rights situation in Egypt falls short of this. The case of the journalist and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah and his lawyer Mohamed El-Baqer, who are both detained in conditions that are in some ways dire, is a prime example. It is unacceptable for people who want to freely express their opinion, and stand up for the right to do so, to be punished with long prison sentences – sometimes in inhumane conditions. This is all the more true when a country such as Egypt stands by its international responsibility in other areas, and has indeed declared this year to be a Year of Civil Society. The release of Mr Fattah, who is at acute risk as a result of his hunger strike, and other political prisoners would be an important sign that Egypt takes this responsibility seriously.
Civic engagement and sociopolitical criticism are neither crimes nor terror. The justified state aim of tackling terror and its causes must not be used as a cover for long-lasting infringements of human rights and civil liberties. Egypt’s Human Rights Strategy must now be translated into concrete action that improves the situation for dissidents. An active civil society is not a disruption; it is an essential element in thriving societies.