These weeks in the Middle East are taking place two events of global importance that have some elements in common.
On November 18, the Cop27 international Climate Conference concludes in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. Two days later, the men’s World Cup begins in Qatar, the first organized in an Arab country. Although obviously two appointments very distant from each other for themes treated, individuals involved, relief and consequences on people’s lives, both are wrapped in a cloak of tensions, jitters, latent and hidden violence that flow into the absurd. And they illustrate how economic and strategic interests have taken over, prompting Western countries to forge alliances with authoritarian regimes in the name of national pragmatism, putting aside any qualms related to human rights and justice.
As world leaders parade in Sharm el Sheikh under the smug gaze of President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, who hoped to hide the human rights violations that his regime is staining under the green veneer of facade environmentalism, the name of Alaa Abdel Fattah bounces between the stands and pavilions. One of the most attended events of Cop27 was the press conference held by Sanaa Seif on November 8, to demand the release of his brother, protagonist of the 2011 revolution, in prison since 2019 and on hunger strike since April 2. On the opening day of the summit, Abdel Fattah also initiated a thirst strike, as an extreme measure to pressure Al Sisi. A week of surreal tug-of-war followed: on the one hand, Abdel Fattah’s weak body, weakened by seven months in which he took on only one hundred calories a day, but strengthened by the solidarity of many people around the world; on the other, a regime that supports itself on a widespread military deployment and carefully prepared to avoid any accident during the great event.
For days nothing was known about Abdel Fattah. There is a suspicion that he was force-fed, while the authorities said that he underwent an unspecified “medical intervention”. Mother Leila Soueif, a mathematician and human rights activist, last saw him on October 17. Since Cop27 began, she has been going to el Natroun prison every day to ask for proof that her son was still alive. Finally, on November 14, she was handed a handwritten letter from Abdel Fattah, dated two days earlier, in which he declared that he was well and had resumed drinking. In another letter dated November 15, Abdel Fattah said he had also ended the hunger strike. He also says he wants to celebrate his birthday with his family during the visit set for November 17 (Abdel Fattah turns 41 on November 18, the day that Cop27 ends). ” Bring a cake, ” the letter says. His lawyer Khaled Ali, who has not seen him since March 2020, went to prison three times for a visit he had received authorization for, but was sent back.
” Today for the first time in eight days I can breathe, ” said Sanaa Seif, who remained in Sharm el Sheikh on November 14 to keep the focus on the case alive. And indeed the resonance it has had is unprecedented. But it didn’t help. Not even pressure from some of the world’s most prominent heads of state – such as the Presidents of France and the United States, Emmanuel Macron and Biden And so far, the British citizenship obtained by Abdel Fattah in April has not helped either, thanks to the fact that his mother was born in London. Probably, however, no leader has questioned the affairs that bind his country to Cairo, including the sale of arms.
Restrictions and security measures
The ambiguities surrounding the case of Alaa Abdel Fattah actually concern the whole event of Cop27. In the days leading up to the start of the conference, authorities arrested dozens of people, including several journalists, and banned all demonstrations. They also imposed strict security measures in Sharm el Sheikh, including the installation of surveillance cameras on all tai The registration process to access the so-called green zone where the meetings take place is extremely complicated, an anomaly compared to previous COP appointments in which the public was invited to participate. There were also complaints from some delegates, who reported being spied on by security forces.
What makes it all the more absurd is the fact that the government’s repression in past years has particularly affected the Egyptian environmental movement. It is HRw to point out that the restrictions that prevent environmental groups from carrying out independent research and activities “violate the right to freedom of assembly and association” and compromise Egypt’s ability to “meet its commitments” on climate and environment. As if that were not enough, the Cop27 location itself is an example of environmental destruction carried out to chase profit. In the past decades Sharm el Sheikh has been distorted to make it one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world. In an article published in The Intercept, Naomi Klein, a Canadian journalist, writer and activist, and Mohammed Rafi Arefin, of the Center for climateust The damage will be felt for decades.
What makes it all the more absurd is the fact that the government’s repression has particularly affected the Egyptian environmental movement
Concerns about the environment and human rights violations also concern the other major event that is about to open in a Middle Eastern country: the men’s Soccer World Cup in Qatar. Doha has boasted that it wants to organize the first World Cup that should achieve carbon neutrality, but experts are not convinced that it is possible. An Associated Press article points out that in the twelve years before the competition, Qatar launched itself into an unparalleled construction activity. It has built seven of the eight stadiums intended for matches, a new subway network, highways, skyscrapers and Lusail, a futuristic city on the east coast, where until ten years ago there was nothing but desert sand. In addition, the stadiums will be refreshed with an outdoor air conditioning system, the expected 1.2 million fans will be quenched thanks to desalination plants that will make the ocean water drinkable and thousands will be accommodated in nearby Dubai and other Gulf cities because there are not enough seats in Qatari hotels. They will be airlifted to watch the games.
The organizers claim, however, that the event can also count some “green” elements: eight hundred new electric buses, six thousand trees, 700 thousand shrubs in nurseries and a new 800 megaatt They also promise that emissions will be offset by investing in renewable energy projects, which experts say may prove ineffective.
An article by Republik also questions the idea that stadiums built for the World Cup can be recycled, converted and reused, as the initial project envisages. The structures have evocative shapes: the Education Cit stadio stadium should recall a traditional female headdress, the Al Thumama a male one, then there is a nomads tent, an ancient bowl, which however could also be a lantern, and a sand dune, which is also a shield. The material from some stadiums should be used to build new buildings in developing countries, while others should be turned into hotels or shopping malls. But the costs of carrying out these projects are very high, comments Republik, and many decisions have not yet been made.
What is really uncertain is the success of the whole operation. Qatar has focused heavily on an event that was supposed to seal its claim on the international stage, but the obscure maneuvers and blatant violations of the rights of foreign workers that accompanied it have provoked international condemnation. So much so that there is more and more talk of the opportunity to boycott the sporting event.
A comparison published in the next issue of Internazionale, on newsstands from November 18, reports two opposing opinions on this issue: is it right to decide not to watch the games on TV to give a signal that a host country is no longer chosen inadequate from a political or environmental point of view? Or is it now too late and it is better for the press to follow the event trying to tell the dark sides of it? The article on the cover is also about the world Cup. It is taken from the German newspaper Die Zeit and traces the history of Qatar to understand how a country that until a few decades ago had to offer the world only pearls in shells managed to gain such a great weight.
Major events could also serve to nail regimes to their responsibilities, be an opportunity to impose on authoritarian governments respect for the rights of their citizens or foreigners working in their country. But if there is a lack of political will, crushed by profit and strategic calculations, then they become just empty shop windows. The reflection of a world where business is worth more than people’s lives.