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Alaa Abd el-Fattah: Family urges UK government to pressure Egyptian minister during London visit

Sisters of imprisoned Egyptian activist hope meeting of foreign ministers could be turning point in securing brother's release
Activists and family of Alaa Abd el-Fattah protest outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London (MEE/Alex MacDonald)
By in
London

The family of imprisoned activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah have called on Britain’s foreign secretary to raise the British-Egyptian's case with Egypt’s foreign minister during a visit to London this week.

Sameh Shoukry arrived in the UK on Monday and held a meeting with North Africa Minister Lord Ahmad, and is likely to have another meeting with UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Tuesday.

Both ministers have in the past acknowledged the case of Abd el-Fattah, who acquired British citizenship through his mother last year and has been on hunger strike since April, in protest against the denial of consular visits.

Mona and Sanaa Seif, Alaa’s sisters, staged a demonstration in collaboration with Amnesty International outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) on Monday evening, calling on the British government to intervene more directly in Alaa’s case.

Speaking in the House of Commons in June, Truss for the first time acknowledged Alaa’s situation and said she would be raising his case with her Egyptian counterpart and attempt to secure his release.

“We know that the visit has started. He was meeting with Lord Ahmad this morning, so we want to be here to remind her of that promise and to encourage her to do whatever she has in her capacity to save Alaa,” Sanaa told Middle East Eye.

Sanaa and Mona Seif catch up with North Africa Minister Lord Ahmad as he comes from the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (MEE/Alex MacDonald)
Sanaa and Mona Seif speaking with North Africa Minister Lord Ahmad as he comes from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (MEE/Alex MacDonald)

At one point during the protest, the sisters managed to speak to Lord Ahmad as he was leaving the FCDO and asked him about the possibility of a meeting with the family.

Ahmad, who has reportedly already met with Shoukry, initially appeared to ignore the demonstrators outside the FCDO until Mona and Sanaa ran to catch up with him.

According to the sisters, he promised to speak to their family after meetings with the Egyptian foreign minister concluded. In a tweet on Monday, following his meeting with Shoukry, Ahmad said he had raised Abd el-Fattah's case.

“We’ve been requesting a meeting with the foreign secretary and what we hear is that the meeting is ‘being processed’. We didn’t hear a ‘no’. So we hope that means that maybe she wants first to make a deal or get something, get a result and then meet the family," said Sanaa.

'We feel like if it doesn’t happen now, it isn’t going to happen'

- Mona Seif, sister of Alaa Abd el-Fattah

“We hope that after her meeting with the minister of foreign affairs, we hope we can hear some good news, but right now we don’t know.”

In a statement to MEE, the FCDO said the government had continued to raise Abd el-Fattah's case at the "highest levels" in Egypt.

They added that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had specifically raised his case during a phone call with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

“We are working urgently to secure consular access to Mr Abdel Fattah and are urging the Egyptian authorities to ensure his welfare needs are met," said the FCDO.

'Secure his release'

Abd el-Fattah was an icon of the 2011 Egyptian revolution and has spent eight out of the last 10 years in jail on a range of charges.

While incarcerated in December 2021, he was sentenced to five years in prison by an emergency state security court on charges of "broadcasting false news", in a trial widely condemned by human rights defenders. The evidence used against him was a retweet.

He began a hunger strike on 2 April and that same month was granted British citizenship through his mother, Laila Soueif.

Mona Seif, who is now in the fourth week of a hunger strike in solidarity with her brother, told MEE that the Truss meeting with Shoukry could be a turning point and hoped it could see a plan developed for his release.

Activists and family of Alaa Abd el-Fattah protest outside the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office in London (MEE/Alex MacDonald)
Activists and family of Alaa Abd el-Fattah protest outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London (MEE/Alex MacDonald)

“We feel like if it doesn’t happen now, it isn’t going to happen," she explained.

"Alaa has been in prison since 2013. Every time they release him, they find an excuse to get him back."

Concerns were raised last year that Abd el-Fattah's conditions were such that he had been pushed into a "suicidal" state.

During his incarceration in Tora Prison, he was denied reading materials, a bed, or even a clock.

Egyptian officials have questioned his family's assertions that he was on hunger strike and claimed it has footage that "disproves" the claim.

In May, Abd el-Fattah was transferred to the Wadi El Natrun prison complex north of Cairo, where his conditions have reportedly improved, including having access to a bed.

Activists say that the increased coverage of Abd el-Fattah's situation in recent months helped forced an improvement in his conditions, but they warn that he is far from safe.

“Because he has become a British citizen, it means that Amnesty sees that there’s a responsibility on the British authorities to provide consular visits and secure his release," said Deborah Singer, Amnesty International UK's country coordinator for Egypt.