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Prince Charles' opportunity and obligation, when he meets President Al-Sisi

November 14, 2021 at 10:46 am

Britain’s Prince Charles delivers a speech during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020 [ABIR SULTAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

Prince Charles has been an outspoken advocate for preserving the environment for decades.  He will have a great opportunity to champion one of his favourite causes when he meets with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi of Egypt during a planned visit to the Middle East later this month, beginning in Jordan on 16 November.

The visit comes in the context of Egypt being designated as the host of next year’s UN climate conference, COP 27.  Egypt is a controversial choice to be host of a multilateral process that to be effective depends on governments fulfilling pledges and therefore requires the kind of public transparency and accountability mechanisms that Sisi’s Egypt singularly lacks.

It is broadly accepted, not least by Prince Charles himself, that governments cannot be trusted to meet these targets themselves; they need to be held accountable by a free press and independent civil society organizations.  Speaking in Glasgow, at COP 26, where the Prince has been a prominent presence, he said: “You need, and I have felt this for many years, a public, private and civil society partnership above all else to tackle this problem.”

Unfortunately, Sisi has a very different approach to tackling problems.  He has spent the years since he seized power in a military coup in 2013 centralizing power in his own hands and eradicating institutions that might presume to expose his shortcomings and hold him to account for his mistakes. Sisi has jailed and killed his political opponents, restricted the media, including through jailing journalists and expelling international reporters and carried out a sustained crack down on independent civil society activists that has driven scores of leading activists into exile, jailed many others in harsh conditions and prosecuted them on baseless charges, now increasingly extending to labelling human rights defenders and other non-violent government critics as terrorists. Independent civil society, labouring under travel bans, asset seizures and closure orders is facing a desperate struggle to continue to exist.

When the news came out that Egypt would be the likely host of COP 27 a coalition of mainly Egyptian human rights organizations identified the problems that would arise: “In the absence of the rule of law, spread of corruption, and a military-led economy, all of which are present in Egypt, those most affected by the ramifications of climate change will have no say in how to address these increasingly difficult challenges. Countries that host the COP 27 should be exemplars of commitments to an ecosystem of climate change advocacy, not brutal authoritarianism.”

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A brutal dictatorship that has shut down anti-corruption mechanisms and silenced those inclined to tell the truth about the country’s environmental record, with an economy increasingly dependent on hydrocarbons, and a poor domestic record on environmental protection, should not be hosting the next step in the essential international effort to combat the threat of climate change.

Prince Charles must know that.  He is not a dilettante on environmental issues.  He spoke out on the need to protect the environment long before it was fashionable and he is fully aware of the responsibilities of governments for this situation.  In his remarks in Glasgow he has repeatedly stressed the “utterly critical importance” of governments finding common purpose.

Prince Charles now faces a delicate diplomatic challenge to which he may be well suited.  Politicians, including leaders of democratic states that claim to support human rights, find it difficult to confront President Sisi with the horrors of his appalling human rights record, despite it being on a level with conditions in countries like Iran that western leaders never tire of criticizing.  Prince Charles is not a politician and need not share their constraints.  He is not a head of state, although he may well be one day, but the British monarch is apolitical and is supposed to stand above the fray, while symbolizing and standing up for shared values, “promoting and protecting what is good,” as the prince’s website describes it, while “raising issues” of common concern, like climate change.

In the name of the urgent imperative to hold governments accountable to the environmental pledges they make through the COP process Prince Charles should urge President Sisi to have Egypt set an example of transparency as the host of COP 27.  It should lift restrictions on the media, and allow independent civil society organizations to function freely.  The critical need for the world to implement measures to combat climate change, which Prince Charles has long championed, cannot afford to be obstructed by Sisi’s brutal authoritarianism.

Prince Charles must urge President Sisi to change his ways, or risk sacrificing the cause of global cooperation to safeguard the environment to which he has devoted so many years of his life.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.