COP27 in Egypt: Greenwashing an authoritarian regime
The 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference, or more commonly known as the COP27 is being hosted in Egypt's resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, located at the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula, until 18 November. Previous summits have been criticised for their inability to provide spaces of potential collaboration between the Global South and Global North in preparing an energy transition and advancing a progressive ecological alternative.
Moreover, the agenda of these conferences have been, and are still, established by powerful governments and multinational corporations opposed to any sustainable and radical changes. This summit is clearly no different given the Egyptian COP presidency revealed that Coca-Cola, characterised as the largest plastic polluter in the world by the INGO Greenpeace, is the main sponsor.
Additionally, US public relations company Hill+Knowlton Strategies, was contracted to help manage communications for COP27, despite being accused of greenwashing famous energy multinationals such as ExxonMobil, Shell or Saudi Aramco.
''Authoritarian and repressive measures and practices in the country have actually been increasing in the lead up to the summit. Egyptian police and security forces have indeed been stepping up their crackdown against activists and individuals calling for protests in the midst of a COP27. The use of preventive interrogations by the military justice system, phone searches and the closure of cafes have multiplied.''
Furthermore, the latest report by the United Nation Environment Program clearly points out to the inaction of governments, and adds that "most financial actors have shown limited action on climate change mitigation because of short-term interests and conflicting objectives, and because climate risks are not adequately recognized". In other words, the stabilisation of the planet's climate and well-being of billions of people is sacrificed on the altar of capitalist profit.
In fact, the entire organisation of COP has been deemed by many as a form of greenwashing of the authoritarian and despotic regime headed by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. As Naomi Klein pointed out, the summit “is going well beyond greenwashing a polluting state; it’s greenwashing a police state”.
Climate activist Greta Thunberg also denounced the event being organised in “a tourist paradise in a country that violates many basic human rights."
Around 200 organisations and individuals have publicly declared their solidarity with political prisoners in Egypt, appealed for the liberation of all arbitrarily detained people in the country, and signed a petition of the COP27 Human Rights Coalition, which affirms “great concern” over “the government’s restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly”.
The Egyptian state has carried out a series of massacres through it army, police and security forces, against peaceful protesters since the summer 2013, including the largest massacre in the history of modern Egypt, in Raba’a and al-Nahda Squares. Between 800 and 1,000 demonstrators, supporters of former president- Mohammad Morsi, were assassinated in the space of twelve hours, on August 14 2013, by the army.
Since the July 2013 military coup d’etat, activists, human rights defenders, journalists, artists, and LGBTIQ communities have been the targets of repetitive repressive campaigns by the regime. Many have faced unfair prosecutions and been incarcerated for being on a ‘terrorism’ list, while freedom of speech and assembly have been severely curtailed.
There is today an estimated 60,000-65,000 political prisoners in Egypt, while Cairo is promoting a so-called reform of the country’s prison facilities in the wake of a new "national strategy for human rights" launched in September 2021.
Prisoners have been transferred to supposedly new and more adequate “rehabilitation centres". However, cruel and inhumane conditions of incarceration continue as well as human rights violations.
In the Badr prison, located 70 kilometres from the capital, and where prisoners have been transferred from mid-2022, Amnesty International recently noted that, “prisoners are held in horrific and punitive conditions comparable to or even worse than those consistently documented at Egypt’s notorious Tora Prison Complex”. They added that there's been at least one death since the prison opened.
Imprisoned UK-Egyptian political activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who has been on hunger strike for seven months, consuming around 100 calories a day, announced during the opening of COP27 that he has stopped drinking water to highlight the regime’s injustice. He was sentenced for sharing a post on social media related to torture.
The terrible human rights record of the Egyptian regime has not prevented them from maintaining good relations with Western states and benefiting from large arms deals with these same countries.
The Arab Spring generation is a generation “that is tired, that is exhausted, that has languished in prisons, and in morgues. Enough” @sana2 at the UN conference#FreeAlaa #SaveAlaa #FreeThemAll #COP27 pic.twitter.com/Cn4r6HTbVK— Nadeen نادين (@nadeenmdkr) November 8, 2022
Moreover, authoritarian and repressive measures and practices in the country have actually been increasing in the lead up to the summit. Egyptian police and security forces have indeed been stepping up their crackdown against activists and individuals calling for protests in the midst of a COP27. The use of preventive interrogations by the military justice system, phone searches and the closure of cafes have multiplied.
On the 30 October, Egyptian authorities arrested Indian climate activist Ajit Rajagopal who decided to walk from Cairo, to Sharm al-Sheikh as a part of the March For Our Planet global campaign, in order to raise awareness about the climate crisis. He was released the following day.
A local human rights group reported that at least 67 people were arrested by authorities in Cairo and other cities at the end of October and beginning of November, in order to try to quell any planned protests.
Hosting city Sharm al-Sheikh is almost completely made up of hotels and vacation resorts catering primarily to the country’s wealthy elites, upper-middle classes, and foreign tourists. There, the harassment of civilians travelling on the two roads leading to the city, the closing of shops in nearby towns, and expulsion of residents without ‘proper’ IDs have accelerated and multiplied in the weeks prior the summit.
Brazilian trade union leader Chico Mendes, who was assassinated in 1988 for his struggles in defence of the rights of the seringueiros and of the Amazon rainforest, famously said that, “ecology without class struggle is gardening”. This is still certainly the case, but in the framework of the COP27 in Egypt, it is far more hurtful: it is a (further) attempt to exonerate a bloody authoritarian regime allied with Western capital.
Joseph Daher teaches at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and is an affiliate professor at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, where he participates in the "Wartime and Post-Conflict in Syria Project." He is the author of "Syria after the Uprisings, The Political Economy of State Resilience".
Follow him on Twitter: @JosephDaher19
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.