The family of a British national jailed in Egypt and the British wife of a travel-banned Egyptian legal defender are calling for Liz Truss to put more pressure on her Egyptian counterpart when they meet this week.
The Foreign Secretary is expected to meet Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in London after telling Parliament in June that she would seek to meet him and raise the case of imprisoned British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El Fattah. “We are working very hard to secure his release,” she said.
Abd El Fattah’s family, as well as Jessica Kelly, the British wife of human rights defender Karim Ennarah, who remains subject to a travel ban preventing him from joining her in London, said Truss and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) had fails to pressure an ally. They said the strong partnership between the two countries, including a post-Brexit trade deal, gives Britain the opportunity to demand more on human rights and political prisoners, which Truss is neglecting.
“We await a clear timeline for Alaa’s release, recognizing that he has served years in prison and is now in his prison [94th] hunger strike day. We need something quick and urgent,” said Mona Seif, Abd El Fattah’s sister, who is now in the fourth week of her hunger strike to draw attention to her brother’s.
Abd El Fattah, a figurehead of Egypt’s 2011 revolution who became a British citizen last year, has spent most of the past decade behind bars. The 40-year-old activist was sentenced to a further five years in prison last year on terrorism allegations over a social media post.
His family said Truss was slow to deal with Abd El Fattah’s case and that the FCDO had not pushed back on Egyptian officials’ refusal to grant him urgent consular access to him in prison.
An FCDO spokesman said: “The UK government continues to raise the case of Alaa Abd El Fattah at the highest level of the Egyptian government.
“We are working urgently to secure consular access for Mr. Ab Del Fattah and are urging the Egyptian authorities to ensure his social needs are met.”
Labor MP David Lammy, who is deputizing for Seif, wrote to Truss ahead of the meeting, urging her to put more pressure on Shoukry for Abd El Fattah’s freedom as the activist has now been on a hunger strike for more than 90 days. “He’s on the brink of death,” he said. “This serious situation requires your urgent intervention. Time is of the essence.”
Seif said: “I will be heartbroken if this turns into yet another diplomatic meeting, like all previous communications, with no tangible promises of resolution. The other thing I’m hoping for is that Truss finally hooks up with us after meeting Shoukry.”
Britain is one of Egypt’s largest trading partners, with trade worth £3.3 billion last year and at least £125 million in military export licenses since 2019. Egypt will also host the Cop27 summit in Sharm el-Sheikh in November.
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon met Shoukry on Monday and said afterwards that he brought up the case of Abd El Fattah.
Kelly said Truss should bring up Ennarah’s case with Shoukry “in the strongest terms” during their meeting. Ennarah, a human rights defender with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, was released from prison in December 2020 after meeting a group of diplomats, including the UK’s deputy ambassador, who had been arrested a month earlier.
“This is an affront to Britain’s friendly relations with Egypt,” Kelly said. Ennarah remains subject to a travel ban that prevents him from relocating to his wife in London, where he previously studied on an FCDO-funded scholarship.
“The FCDO needs to be firm and consistent, and what I’ve experienced is they tell me Karim is their top priority, but they don’t seem to use any of their leverage,” Kelly said. “Boris Johnson raised this case [Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-] Sisi during a call in March last year, but there was no follow-up. What does it say when Boris Johnson files a case and nothing happens? It looks like Egypt is in charge and spinning circles around us.”