Free Alaa Now

7 November, 2022

Abd El-Fat­tah’s essays are pub­lished by Sev­en Sto­ries Press.

Jordan Elgrably

Only a few hours ago, Egyp­t’s most famous polit­i­cal pris­on­er drank his last glass of water. After a months-long hunger strike in which Alaa Abd El-Fat­tah con­sumed only 100 calo­ries per day, and after years of lan­guish­ing in prison, El-Fat­tah is pulling the plug on his cap­tor, Pres­i­dent El-Sis­si. His life lit­er­al­ly hangs in the bal­ance, for in the next 48 hours if Egyp­t’s dic­ta­tor does­n’t give the order for El-Fat­tah’s release, he will die.


As his devot­ed sis­ter Sanaa tweet­ed, My broth­er just had his last glass of water in prison. Please keep his sto­ry alive, it’s not over. He can be saved. This after­noon I’m fly­ing to Sharm, I have a civ­il soci­ety pass. The Egypt­ian regime claims civic space exists in #COP27. I’ll be test­ing that.


Mona Seif, human rights activist, wor­ries that Sanaa, too, will wind up behind bars.

And no less than 15 Nobel Prize for Lit­er­a­ture lau­re­ates have just signed a let­ter, call­ing for El-Fat­tah’s release, the body of which reads:

As your coun­try’s del­e­gates pre­pare for the COP27 Inter­na­tion­al Cli­mate Con­fer­ence in Egypt we, as Nobel lau­re­ates, write to urge you to devote part of your agen­da to the many thou­sands of polit­i­cal pris­on­ers held in Egypt’s pris­ons – most urgent­ly, the Egypt­ian-British writer and philoso­pher, Alaa Abd El-Fat­tah, now six months into a hunger strike and at risk of death.

Alaa has spent the last ten years — a quar­ter of his life — in prison, for words he has written.

As Nobel lau­re­ates, we believe in the world-chang­ing pow­er of words — and the need to defend them if we are to build a more sus­tain­able, gen­uine­ly fair­er future.

We urge you to use the oppor­tu­ni­ty that is now in your hands to help those most vul­ner­a­ble, not just to the ris­ing seas, but those impris­oned and for­got­ten — specif­i­cal­ly in the very coun­try that has the priv­i­lege of host­ing you. A just tran­si­tion can­not sole­ly be con­cerned with bring­ing down emis­sions, but must seek a re-con­struc­tion of the sta­tus quo away from exploita­tion and coer­cion. If the world’s lead­ers gath­er in Egypt and leave with­out even a word about the most vul­ner­a­ble, then what hope can they have? If COP-27 ends up a silent gath­er­ing, where no one risks speak­ing open­ly for fear of anger­ing the COP Pres­i­den­cy, then what future is it that will be being nego­ti­at­ed over?

We under­stand well what is at stake with the nego­ti­a­tions and their urgency. But we write to remind you that, ulti­mate­ly, it is not through com­pro­mise with author­i­tar­i­an­ism that crises are avert­ed. We believe that it is through more democ­ra­cy, more trans­paren­cy and more civic par­tic­i­pa­tion that the truest route to sus­tain­abil­i­ty lies. Let us not use the excuse of prag­ma­tism to avoid the hard questions.

We ask you to use your ple­nary address to speak the names of the impris­oned, to call for their free­dom, and to invite Egypt to turn a page and become a true part­ner in a dif­fer­ent future: a future that respects human life and dig­ni­ty. We ask you use bilat­er­al meet­ings to sup­port the call from Egypt­ian and inter­na­tion­al human rights groups for a pris­on­er amnesty; to make your sup­port a stand­ing agen­da item.

We ask you, in your address, to bring the voic­es of the unjust­ly impris­oned into the room. Alaa Abd El-Fattah’s pow­er­ful voice for democ­ra­cy is close to being extin­guished, we ask you to breathe life into it by read­ing his words. These, from 2019, about deal­ing with the cli­mate cri­sis, are par­tic­u­lar­ly resonant:

The cri­sis is not one of aware­ness, but of sur­ren­der to the inevitabil­i­ty of inequal­i­ty. If the only thing that unites us is the threat, then every­one will move to defend their inter­ests. But if we col­lect around a hope in a bet­ter future, a future where we put an end to all forms of inequal­i­ty, this glob­al aware­ness will be trans­formed into pos­i­tive energy.

Hope, here, is nec­es­sary. Our dreams may not come to pass, but if we sub­mit to our night­mares we’ll be killed by fear before the Flood.

Indeed, we can­not sur­ren­der to the inevitabil­i­ty of inequal­i­ty. We can­not yield the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a dif­fer­ent future to an amoral man­age­ri­al­ism of cri­sis. We must ensure that our words are spo­ken in defence of the most vul­ner­a­ble — because we know that our silence puts them at greater risk.

Yours Sin­cere­ly,

Svet­lana Alexievich
J. M. Coetzee
Annie Ernaux
Louise Glück
Abdul­razak Gurnah
Kazuo Ishig­uro
Elfriede Jelinek
Mario Var­gas Llosa
Patrick Modi­ano
Her­ta Müller
Orhan Pamuk
Roger Pen­rose
George Smith
Wole Soyin­ka
Olga Tokar­czuk

A few months ago, Alaa Abd El-Fat­tah pub­lished, from prison, a col­lec­tion of essays enti­tled You Have Not Yet Been Defeat­ed (Sev­en Sto­ries Press) which the writer Nao­mi Klein calls “liv­ing his­to­ry.” We pub­lished a review of You Have Not Yet Been Defeat­ed in TMR recent­ly by Fouad Mami (“Alaa Abd El-Fattah—the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary El-Sis­si Fears Most?”). El-Fat­tah con­tin­ues to inspire free­dom-lov­ing peo­ple around the world, but he does not have long to live, unless Egyp­t’s author­i­ties see him free.

Free Alaa, now.


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