Journalists and rights advocates have slammed the UK government for signing deals worth over £180 million ($250 million) with Egypt whilst brushing over the issue of the ongoing severe human rights violations in the country.
In a joint statement following a meeting between the UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and her Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry yesterday, the ministers agreed to work intensively to grow bilateral trade and investment, yet little was said about human rights in the country.
For the weeks preceding this meeting, the families of political prisoners in Egypt have called on Truss to urgently press the question of human rights with Shoukry as 60,000 people remain detained in Egypt for their political views.
They remain frustrated with Truss for the lack of urgency in what in many cases is a life or death situation due to the denial of medical care, the systematic torture and squalid conditions they are held in.
Stop diffusing Alaa's case in general statements about human rights, yes the situation in Egypt is horrific, but @alaa as a British Citizen, tortured, unjustly imprisoned for a SHARING A FACEBOOK POST is your direct joint responsibility @trussliz @MfaEgypthttps://t.co/LKzzxfHmfG
— Mona Seif (@Monasosh) July 5, 2022
The UK and Egypt want "enhanced economic co-operation", the families of @FreedomForAlaa and @freekarimnow want UK pressure on Cairo over human rights – and Alaa and Karim free to reunite with them in London. https://t.co/KrhiUuJ4nv
— Caroline Hawley (@carolinehawley) July 5, 2022
The family of British-Egyptian Alaa Abdelfattah sent a message to Sameh Shoukry using a van driven in central London with the word "Let our brother, son, friend, Alaa, go" written on the side of it.
"Alaa is a British citizen, father to a 10-year-old son, and an Amnesty prisoner of conscience. He has been tortured and sentenced to five years in prison for a Facebook post and denied British consular access."
Alaa has been on hunger strike for over three months and has not received the necessary medical care he needs. His sister Mona Seif is now in her fourth week of a hunger strike after she joined Alaa to try and build pressure for his release.
In an article in the Times earlier this week, British national Jess Kelly urged Truss to raise the case of her husband Karim Ennarah in the meeting.
Karim was arrested in November 2020 following a meeting between diplomats from several countries and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), which he works for.
He was in prison for two weeks and since his release has been subject to a travel ban and his bank account has been frozen, limiting the amount of time he can spend with his wife and what work he can do.
Please bring human rights activist Karim Ennarah's case up with the Egyptian foreign ministry when you meet him today @trussliz – Karim is on an unlawful travel ban & asset freeze & his British wife @Jeky_Kelly is desperate. @MfaEgypt https://t.co/YnFzdR5Lh8
— Ramita Navai (@ramitanavai) July 5, 2022
Politicians and human rights advocates have urged Egypt not to use the upcoming COP27 as an opportunity to whitewash human rights abuses in the country and instead use it as an opportunity to help force Egypt to take tangible steps to improve conditions in the country.
In a message sent to his sister from prison, Alaa himself asked why Egypt was chosen to host the UN climate summit when it has banned protests and imprisoned thousands of people.
Rights advocates have called on the UK to better leverage their position as one of Egypt's closest allies to secure freedom for political prisoners.
"The UK is one of Egypt's biggest foreign investors, contributing more than $5 billion to the economy each year, but we are not capitalising on the great leverage we have," Jess said in the Times.