CAIRO, Egypt – Detained Egyptian-British activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah told his family he has broken a seven-month-long hunger strike, his sister said on Tuesday, suspending a protest that overshadowed Egypt’s hosting of the COP27 global climate talks.
An activist and blogger who rose to prominence in the Arab Spring uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, Abd el-Fattah became a symbol for the tens of thousands of Egyptians – from liberals to Islamists – who were swept up in later crackdowns.
On hunger strike since April over his detention and prison conditions, he escalated his protest by saying he would stop drinking water at the start of the United Nations climate conference in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh last week.
Several leaders, including US President Joe Biden, raised his case with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during the climate talks.
In his message to his mother, dated Monday afternoon, Abd el-Fattah said he was looking forward to seeing her on a prison visit later this week.
“The important thing is I want to celebrate my birthday with you on Thursday …, so bring a cake, normal provisions,” he wrote in the letter shared by his sister on Twitter. “I’ve broken my strike. I’ll explain everything on Thursday.”
It was not immediately clear what had prompted his decision. British officials have for months unsuccessfully sought consular access to visit Abd el-Fattah, who is being held in a prison northwest of Cairo.
Abd el-Fattah’s lawyer Khaled Ali says he has been blocked twice in the last week by prison officials from seeing him, despite getting approval on each occasion for a visit from the prosecutor’s office.
“So what happened inside? What was negotiated?” his aunt, the novelist Ahdaf Soueif, said on Twitter.
“Let’s remember that Alaa had no idea of the size of the support surrounding him. He is on his own, in prison, with no information except what they choose to give him.”
In a rare official statement on the case, Egypt’s public prosecution said last week Abd el-Fattah’s condition was good, shortly after his family reported being told by prison authorities that medical intervention had been carried out to sustain him.
On Monday his sister said he had told the family he had resumed drinking water in a message which she said was the first sign of life for days. He also said in the note he was receiving medical attention and his vital signs were good.
A prominent campaigner during the 2011 uprising in Egypt, Abd el-Fattah spent most of the next decade in jail after a far-reaching crackdown on political dissent following Sisi’s election in 2014.
A year earlier Sisi, then-army chief, led the military overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected leader – President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood – after huge national protests against Mursi’s government.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said after Biden’s meeting on Friday that Washington was doing everything it could to secure Abd el-Fattah’s freedom “as well as the release of a number of other political prisoners” in Egypt.
Sisi says security and stability are paramount and denies there are political prisoners in Egypt. – Rappler.com