Nov 7, 2022 - World

Egypt's rights abuses and surveillance concerns loom over COP27

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi holds a press conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany on July 18.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi during a July press conference in Berlin, Germany. Photo: Emmanuele Contini/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Rights groups have raised concerns about the potential surveillance of COP27 delegates, the arrest of protesters and imprisonment of political prisoners in Egypt ahead of the climate summit starting in Sharm el-Sheikh Monday.

The big picture: As U.K. officials pledged to raise at COP27 the imprisonment of a British-Egyptian writer, Human Rights Watch noted in a report Sunday Egypt's authorities had "arrested dozens of people" over anti-government protests planned to coincide with the summit and that restrictions were placed on demonstrations.

  • HRW said "the Egyptian government released a smartphone application for COP27 attendees" last month, which "requires users to provide personal information," including their passport numbers.
  • "Based on an initial analysis by two local rights groups, the application requires access to the phone's camera, microphone, location, and Bluetooth connection," the U.S.-based rights group said. "All information gathered by the application can be shared with third parties."

Zoom in: Hossam Baghat, the head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, last month tweeted a link to an app screen featuring the face of Egypt's president with the comment that to download the COP27 app "you must give your full name, email address, mobile number, nationality and passport number. Also you must enable location tracking."

Threat level: There are concerns that Egyptian officials could use the data for more crackdowns on dissent in the country — which has roughly 65,000 political prisoners, per the Guardian.

  • "The wide-ranging information raises further surveillance and privacy concerns," HRW said.
  • Gennie Gebhart, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's advocacy director, described the COP27 app to the Guardian as "a cartoon super-villain" with the "biggest red flag" being permissions required, which she said were "unnecessary for the operation of the app and suggests they are trying to surveil attendees."

What we're watching: U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he'd raise at COP27 the plight of Alaa Abd El-Fattah, a British-Egyptian writer and rights activist who's spent much of the past decade in prison on charges including "spreading false news."

  • "I will continue to stress to President Sisi the importance that we attach to the swift resolution of Alaa's case, and an end to his unacceptable treatment," Sunak said in a letter to Abd El-Fattah's family.

Meanwhile, there have been calls for anti-government protests to be held this Friday as the climate conference continues, with at least 67 people arrested over the planned demonstrations, per Reuters.

Worth noting: Leading climate activist Greta Thunberg has said she's not attending the summit as the UN climate conferences "are mainly used as an opportunity for leaders and people in power to get attention, using many different kinds of greenwashing."

  • Thunberg tweeted her "solidarity with prisoners of conscience in Egypt" last month and urged her five million Twitter followers to sign a petition calling for the release of "everyone arbitrarily detained" ahead of COP27.
  • Representatives for the COP27 presidency and Egyptian government could not immediately be reached for comment.
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