Has repressive Egypt been intentionally selected for Cop27?
To anyone who cares about the situation of unceasing state terror by the Sisi regime in Egypt, the news that Cop27 (officially known as the United Nations Climate Change Conference) is to be held in Sharm El Sheikh this November, has felt like something of a perversity.
One ought to have grown used to the fact that the UN facilitates and elevates some of the worst human rights abusers on earth. But this is climate change we’re dealing with here – something that is already a global catastrophe and, with every minute, only grows more catastrophic in its scope.
The pageantry around Cop26, held last year in Glasgow, where politicians vied for relevance, publicity and political capital according to the hierarchies of global elitism, ought to have been a massive warning sign that if there is any coherent and effective fight back against climate change, it is not being provided by those who occupy the halls of power.
''Climate change requires a response comprising not just a set of often meaningless pledges regarding emissions cuts, but a new way of looking at the world and our individual and collective places within it. A world where human equality is placed before anything else, as opposed to holding red carpet conferences that empower vicious fascistic dictatorships, such as that of Sisi’s Egypt.''
Even in the democratic world, the people had no real voice among what is supposed to be the vanguard of combatting the existential threat of global warming. So what message is the UN and the international community sending by allowing the near-totalitarian tyrannical regime of Abdel Fattah El Sisi to hold Cop27?
If one thought Cop26 was a carnival of ostentatious, hollow elitism, Cop27 takes it to a whole new level of sinister frivolity. To those who want to follow this path of justified cynicism to one of its logical conclusions, I would suggest that holding Cop27 in a police state where even the most moderate criticism of the regime is met with violence and incarceration is a good way to ensure that popular dissent to the conference and its top-down structure is made impossible.
Sisi’s Egypt is not known for its interest or innovation in ecological matters – quite the opposite. It is, however, renowned for its capacity for brutality in crushing dissent, whether that’s through the number of political prisoners being held without trial, or through state-sanctioned massacres, extrajudicial murders and the mass execution of political opponents.
Cop26, and the subsequent Glasgow Climate Pact, were considered by many experts to be a wholly and possibly fatally inadequate response to the unfolding doom of climate change. Perhaps, then, the UN anticipated protests for Cop27 and decided that holding the conference in a place where free protest could get you imprisoned, tortured or murdered was a good way to circumvent any such popular backlash.
To underline this, Human Rights Watch recently released a report on how the Sisi regime has ‘severely curtailed’ the work of independent Egyptian environmental groups from operating within the country.
After the January 25 revolution that saw the tyrant Hosni Mubarak deposed by mass popular uprisings and birthed a short-lived majority, Sisi has sought to ensure that no such revolution could ever occur again. As well as unrelenting state terror against the population, this has meant the annihilation of civil society and NGOs.
Any group that exists beyond the control or patronage of the regime will be crushed. As the HRW report details, environmental groups have not been spared this fate, with the regime harassing, arresting and threatening academics, activists, scientists and journalists involved in environmental issues. The net result has been an effective shutdown of important environmental work conducted by these groups and individuals, with some even being forced into exile, while others are deterred from getting involved in crucial aspects of environmental and ecological research in Egypt.
And this is the key point – these people are being persecuted because, by the way of their research and often indirectly, their own work exposes the fact that the Sisi regime has done nothing substantial to tackle its own negative contribution to climate change or to address the catastrophic ramifications of climate change on Egyptians. In Egypt, the insatiable kleptocracy that Sisi presides over, comes before everything – including the impending ecological disaster that Egypt faces.
How can those who organise and take part in Cop27 possibly justify this? The dismal reality is that they won’t ever have to. Those who take ultra-pragmatic or realist approaches to the climate question might argue that hosting it in Sharm is a necessary evil, given Egypt is a large ‘developing’ country that might better draw the focus of other similar countries. But even this idea doesn’t hold. The Sisi regime’s disdain for indigenous environmental groups and for those who will be the victims of climate change is a microcosm of the much wider mindset of those behind Cop27.
Climate change requires a response comprising not just a set of often meaningless pledges regarding emissions cuts, but a new way of looking at the world and our individual and collective places within it. A world where human equality is placed before anything else, as opposed to holding red carpet conferences that empower vicious fascistic dictatorships, such as that of Sisi’s Egypt.
The emphasis should be on empowering new democratic industrial models that treat people not as disposable batteries to be used by profiteers or kleptocratic states for their own enrichment and mastery, but as resources who have a stake in saving their own futures and that of our world.
But the reality is that our world is nowhere near anything like this. Many live without even basic democratic norms. The changes necessary to reverse climate change have never been further from being applied by global leaders.
Holding Cop27 in Sisi’s Egypt this November proves this. It proves once again that the world is stuck in a mire of ultra-conservatism, brutal elitism and human and ecological exploitation, all of which is determined by entities that have vested interests in maintaining this destructive status quo. Cop27 is supposed to be about saving the world; instead, despite its grand pretensions, it shows nothing but contempt for it.
Sam Hamad is a writer and History PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow focusing on totalitarian ideologies.
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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.