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Repression and corruption—what to expect at Cop27

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With the next global climate conference set to be held in Egypt, Phil Marfleet explains how the state is guilty of greenwashing, crackdowns and numerous climate crimes
Issue 2823
A picture of Abdel Fattah El-Sisi illustrating a story on Cop27

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

In November Egypt will host the Cop27 climate conference. For Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi it “is an opportunity to showcase unity against an existential threat”.

In reality, it is an opportunity for Sisi’s regime to engage in ­greenwashing that obscures both Egypt’s dismal record on the climate and ecological crises. It will also be a way to hide the fact that it is a violent and ­aggressive police state. Many states in the Global North and Global South have grossly inadequate policies to address the ­climate and ecological crises. What marks out Egypt?

The Sisi regime has been in power for almost ten years. Despite its claim to be leading on climate action, it has nurtured an energy policy entirely dependent on fossil fuels and has doubled the ­production of oil and gas since 2016. At the same time, it has ­suppressed all forms of protest over economic, social and political issues. The regime’s record on carbon emissions is woeful.

By going all-out to increase oil and gas production it has ensured that Egypt now gets 95 percent of its energy needs from fossil fuels. This happens even though Egypt has some of the most favourable conditions in Africa for solar and wind power. 

As a result, in 2019 Egypt was one of the fastest-growing ­greenhouse gas emitters. The lives of millions of Egyptians are plagued by atmospheric pollution. According to the UN Environment Programme, Egypt’s capital city, Cairo, suffers from “polluted skies” and “black lungs. It has repeatedly been rated as one of the world’s most polluted cities.

Air pollution in the city is ten times the level considered safe. Efforts to control industrial emissions are described as “a drop in the ocean” of what’s required. Millions of Egyptians lack secure access to clean drinking water. 

There have been repeated ­demonstrations over water—these “thirst protests” were a feature of Egypt’s Revolution of 2011. They have since continued, often led by women in the most deprived rural communities. Often they are savagely ­suppressed by the Sisi regime. His government came to power in a military coup that aimed to destroy the 2011 revolution and its hopes for change.

Sisi calls for more international funding to support a transition to climate-friendly policies. Carbon Market Watch, which monitors states’ actions on climate, says, “Without stringent conditions and due diligence, a significant portion of funding reaching Egypt is at risk of ending up greasing the wheels of corruption. Foreign investments often end up not only bankrolling the regime but also providing it with the resources to repress the population.”

Protests over environmental issues have been increasing since the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, which preceded the present regime. 

Mubarak declared a commitment to neoliberal, “market-friendly” policies and public companies were sold to private owners in corrupt deals. Land was seized from peasants and handed over to estates from the colonial era and water was privatised. 

At the same time, the army became a key player in the Egyptian economy, taking over many companies in construction and manufacturing. This included some of the country’s worst polluters— the cement factories and chemical plants. The Egyptian state’s climate ­killing policies have led to misery for ordinary people. 

A call from Egyptian activists to boycott the conference is at bit.ly/SisiLies


 

Climate campaigners will suffer brutal assaults if they protest 

Protesters in Egypt are treated as enemies of the state. The penalty for voicing opposition to the regime’s policies is routine. It is arrest, imprisonment without even a pretence of a fair trial, and long sentences in prisons notorious for torture and abuse.

The revolution of 2011 demanded economic change and freedom from dictatorship. It also saw a host of community protests over drinking water, sanitation and pollution —some called these events a “Revolution of the Thirsty” and a “Green Awakening”.

They encouraged environmental activism, including an Egyptians Against Coal movement that opposed the burning of imported coal in Egypt’s power stations. When Sisi mounted an army coup to crush the revolution, environmental protesters, like others, faced intense repression. Under new laws, issued by presidential decree in 2013, police and paramilitary forces were granted the right to ban protests and use lethal force against demonstrators. 

Tens of thousands of Egyptians have since been seized and imprisoned since. Many have been “disappeared”—kidnapped by plainclothes security units and held in prisons and detention camps without charge and without public notification of their fate.

Ahmed Amasha, a veterinary doctor and head of the Arab Association for Environment and Sustainable Development, has twice been seized by security agencies. He was “disappeared” in 2017 and eventually released in 2019 after torture in detention, he was again seized in 2020 and vanished without a trace.

Climate activists and environmental protestors are closely connected to those who organise for human rights and social justice. They contest the regime’s commitment to profit-hungry capitalist enterprises and the army’s determination to grasp a share of the spoils. 

Those who campaigned to stop coal opposed “a government of smog”. They said, “It is enough that you stole our past. Let us have our future.” 

Today, public protest is forbidden and those like Ahmed Amasha who have challenged al-Sisi’s policies and repressive practices face “disappearance”—or worse. Youth Love Egypt (YLE) is a phoney campaign, supported by the regime, that creates the illusion of open public activity over the climate crisis. 

Established in the wake of the 2011 revolution, it has become a mouthpiece for the state, sending a delegation to the Cop26 summit in Glasgow in 2021. There the YLE championed Sisi as an African champion in contesting climate change

Genuine climate activists are gagged by threats of imprisonment and abuse. Websites are blocked and public protests attacked. Human Rights Watch says, “Egypt is a glaringly poor choice to host Cop27 and rewards the repressive rule of president al-Sisi despite his government’s appalling abuses.”

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