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Revolution is in the air at Sisi's climate conference

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Belgrade, Serbia on 20 July 2022 [Milos Miskov/Anadolu Agency]
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Belgrade, Serbia on 20 July 2022 [Milos Miskov/Anadolu Agency]

Storm clouds are gathering over the skies of Egypt which have a hint of revolution within them. They could be the real reason why prominent climate change protagonists like Britain's King Charles III and politicians are not attending the prestigious global COP27 due to be held in Sharm El Sheikh from 6 to 18 November.

The West is expert at the dark arts of deception and spin, while most dictators and tyrants in the Middle East are shameless about how their rule is perceived as they routinely trample human rights and gloss over other humanitarian issues. But when their two worlds collide — as they will during the emergency climate conference in Egypt — the challenges presented will be enormous, especially for those who claim to care about the welfare of the planet and those who live on it.

Perhaps one of the slickest of today's many slick PR machines works tirelessly for the British monarchy, which is why I think Charles will not be attending COP27. We are being led to believe that the new British king was "told" by Liz Truss, during her brief tenure as UK Prime Minister, that he should not attend the forthcoming climate conference, and that Buckingham Palace has "unanimously agreed". If you believe that, though, you'll believe anything.

There is no way that Charles, a man burdened by his own self-importance and king-sized ego, would heed the advice of a political Lilliputian like Truss, and I doubt very much if she would have used her first royal encounter as PM to instruct him not to attend. Moreover, Egypt is facing another January 2011-style revolution and so presents a security nightmare for the royal protection team; the king's presence would present a golden opportunity for protesters.

Did the dark forces within the Buckingham Palace spin machine let the witless Truss believe that it was her idea that the king should not attend specifically because COP27 is in Egypt? If it was being held in Iceland or some such place, then Charles, who is well known for his green credentials and concerns about the environment, would have overruled everyone and attended.

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This probably also explains in part why the latest British PM, Rishi Sunak, is not going to Sharm El Sheikh either, although conspiracy theorists are convinced that it has more to do with his relationship with Indian leader Narendra Modi, who is very unhappy at criticism of India's reliance on fossil fuels.

Speaking of which, to be brutally frank, there are going to be some other loathsome individuals swaggering around the Egyptian Sinai resort, including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and the host himself, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, both of whom will be looking desperately for photo opportunities with Western leaders. King Charles would definitely have been high up on their selfie list. There's nothing despots love more than to be photographed with the leader of a benign Western democracy to boost their own credibility at home.

COP27 logo is seen on a smartphone screen and in the background. The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference COP27 event will take place from the 7-18 November 2022, in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. [Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images]

COP27 logo is seen on a smartphone screen and in the background. The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference COP27 event will take place from the 7-18 November 2022, in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. [Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images]

The UN climate change conferences are without doubt the biggest and single most important annual climate-related conferences on the planet, and hugely significant for those with green credentials such as Charles. Despite the British monarchy being loaded with colonial baggage, the king's absence will be a huge blow to Sisi.

However, Charles, a king-in-waiting for 73 years, has the disadvantage that he is less popular than his late mother and so he is acutely aware of the negativity that COP27 could bring if a predicted January 2011-style peoples' uprising takes place in Egypt. It's not the issues on the conference agenda to save humanity which are cause for concern, but the fact that Egypt, ruled by a military regime with an abysmal human rights record, is teetering on the revolutionary edge.

Sisi's advisers have apparently told him to prepare for one of the largest public demonstrations since the 2011 revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak. Fuelled by poverty, corruption and general social unrest as the Egyptian pound plummets to its lowest value in history, calls for a rally on 11 November are growing.

"People cannot put bread on the table," said one of the protest organisers on condition of anonymity. "It's that simple and the way this protest is building reminds me very much of what happened here in 2010 when we turned Tahrir Square into a hotbed of dissent which brought down Mubarak's presidency."

The revolution back then — which went on to produce the first democratically elected Egyptian President in Mohamed Morsi, until Sisi launched his military coup in 2013 — spread across the Arab world having first erupted in Tunisia in response to the recession and government corruption there. When Morsi was president the Egyptian pound fell to a low of six to the US dollar and people were struggling to survive. Under Sisi, however, Egyptians are four times worse off with each US dollar commanding 23 Egyptian pounds, an all-time low.

READ: Climate activist Greta Thunberg signs petition calling on Egypt to release political prisoners

"We haven't gone back to 2010, we are worse off than ever under Sisi. People are already talking about revolution and this climate conference will give us the spotlight and platform we need," added the protest organiser. "Surely not even Sisi will make another massacre like Rabaa Al-Adawiya when his friends from the West come to Egypt for the conference." The August 2013 massacre was carried out by Sisi's security forces who crushed a pro-Morsi protest in the eastern Cairo district of Nasr City. The Egyptian forces used armoured personnel carriers, bulldozers and rooftop snipers to kill more than 1,000 protesters.

No doubt those planning to take to the streets on 11 November feel confident that Sisi will not dare to deploy his brutal security forces to crush dissent while trying to impress the prime ministers, presidents and royalty attending the COP27. But who knows? The West turned a blind eye to his military coup in 2013, with Washington refusing to use the C-word at the time and continuing to pour military aid into Cairo. His allies in the West continue to overlook his ongoing repression of political opponents for the simple reason that they need him on board in order to help Israel maintain its blockade of the Gaza Strip. If he holds back from unleashing his security forces on protesters during COP27, it will not be out of concern for their lives, but to save his own face in front of his visitors. If it's going to happen at all, the backlash will come when the last presidential jet has left Sharm El Sheikh. That's the way with dictators; cowardly to the last.

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

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