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Activist’s Hunger Strike Casts Shadow Over COP27

It has become impossible for Cairo to escape scrutiny of its troubling human rights record.

By , a reporter at Foreign Policy.
Sanaa Seif speaks at COP27.
Sanaa Seif speaks at COP27.
Sanaa Seif, sister of dissident Alaa Abd el-Fattah, who is on a hunger strike while imprisoned in Egypt, speaks at a press conference at the United Nations climate change summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on Nov. 8. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at imprisoned British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah’s hunger strike, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s terms for peace talks, the reopening of a key Haitian fuel terminal, and U.S. midterm election results.

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Activist’s Hunger Strike Spotlights Egypt’s Abuses 

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at imprisoned British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah’s hunger strike, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s terms for peace talks, the reopening of a key Haitian fuel terminal, and U.S. midterm election results.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Activist’s Hunger Strike Spotlights Egypt’s Abuses 

As the world focuses on Egypt for the latest United Nations climate change summit (known as COP27), it has also zeroed in on Cairo’s troubling human rights record—and, in particular, the uncertain fate of imprisoned British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah.

Amnesty International has warned that Abd el-Fattah—who became a leading activist and public figure during the Arab Spring—may have just days left to live given his deteriorating health. Since April, he has been on a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment and secure his release; on Sunday, he intensified his efforts at the start of the summit and is now refusing to drink water

“We are running out of time, so if the authorities do not want to end up with a death they should have—and could have—prevented, they must act now,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary-general. “Twenty-four, 48 hours, 72 hours at the most—that’s all they have to save a life. If they don’t, that death will [hang over] COP27. It will be in every single discussion.”

Hosting COP27 was supposed to be a point of pride for Egypt. But as activists and human rights groups use the high-profile conference to spotlight Abd el-Fattah’s detention, it has become impossible for Cairo to escape international scrutiny of its human rights abuses and sweeping crackdowns.

At COP27, his family has led the charge for his release, both in rallying international support and calling attention to his detention and hunger strike. “We don’t know how he is,” his sister, Sanaa Seif, declared at a press conference on Tuesday. “We don’t know if he’s alive.”

That outraged Egyptian lawmaker Amr Darwish, who yelled at her during the news conference, first accusing her of summoning “foreign countries to put pressure on Egypt” and then angrily shouting while guards led him out, the Washington Post reported.

Abd el-Fattah’s case is also proving to be a major diplomatic test for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Sunak has expressed his deep concern about the dual British citizen’s fate and hopes for a swift resolution to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, No. 10 Downing St. said, although it’s unclear if that made any difference.

For now, his fate hangs in the balance. Abd el-Fattah “is in great danger,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk warned on Tuesday. “I call on the Egyptian authorities to fulfill their human rights obligations and immediately release all those arbitrarily detained, including those in pretrial detention as well as those unfairly convicted.”


What We’re Following Today

Zelensky’s conditions for peace talks. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he would be willing to engage in potential peace talks with Russia as long as several terms are met: Ukraine is compensated for losses from the war, regains all of its land, and war criminals are prosecuted. Zelensky’s conditions come after the Washington Post reported that U.S. officials have been urging Kyiv to express its openness to peace talks to preserve global support. 

Haiti fuel terminal. The primary fuel terminal in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, finally reopened on Tuesday after gang leaders ended a blockade that had been in place since September. The blockade had prevented critical fuel supplies from reaching businesses and hospitals—forcing some doctors to turn away patients amid a cholera outbreak—and its end offers a potential glimmer of hope as Haiti confronts cascading political and economic crises.

U.S. midterm elections. Democrats outperformed expectations as a predicted Republican red wave failed to materialize. At the time of publication, control of both the House and Senate remained uncertain. The latest projections suggest that Republicans will retake the House with a narrow majority and that the Senate is likely to remain a 50-50 split with Democrats retaining control due to U.S. Vice President Kamala Harriss tie-breaking vote. The Senate outcome will depend on results in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Wisconsin—including a possible Dec. 6 runoff vote in Georgia if neither candidate wins 50 percent of the vote there.

Read FPs coverage of the elections implications for U.S. foreign policy and a discussion with FP editors and reporters here.


Keep an Eye On 

Greece’s spyware ban. The Greek government plans to make spyware sales illegal after a media investigation found that it had been surveilling more than 30 high-profile political leaders, businesspeople, and journalists. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has called the accusations an “unbelievable lie.” 

Congo’s intensifying conflict. Congolese forces launched a spate of airstrikes against the M23 rebel group on Tuesday, The Associated Press reported, just a day after military officials said they had enlisted more than 3,000 new recruits. In July, journalist Mélanie Gouby reported on how “​the specter of open warfare is looming once again over a region scarred by hate speech and genocide” with M23’s resurgence. 


Tuesday’s Most Read

The Cult of Modi by Ramachandra Guha

The Obvious Climate Strategy Nobody Will Talk About by Ted Nordhaus, Vijaya Ramachandran, and Patrick Brown

It’s Woman vs. Woman in Iran’s Protests by Anchal Vohra


Odds and Ends 

The U.S. National Park Service is urging visitors not to lick Sonoran Desert toads since they “have prominent parotoid glands that secrete a potent toxin,” the Washington Post reported. The warty amphibians produce a substance that has psychedelic properties, although researchers say licking them won’t make users high—and, in certain cases, can even be deadly.

“As we say with most things you come across in a national park, whether it be a banana slug, unfamiliar mushroom, or a large toad with glowing eyes in the dead of night, please refrain from licking,” the National Park Service said. 

Christina Lu is a reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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