Egypt, host of COP27, has restricted the work of environmental groups

BEIRUT – The Egyptian government has severely restricted the work of environmental groups, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday.

That has left activists fearful of publicly scrutinizing authorities before the country hosts a crucial global climate summit, the rights group said.

The annual UN Conference of the Parties (COP) involves nearly 200 countries, with hundreds of observers, NGOs and – very often – mass protests aimed at increasing pressure on political leaders to fight change. climatic.

Egypt will host this year’s event, COP27, in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh in November.

“The Egyptian government imposed arbitrary barriers to funding, research and registration that weakened local environmental groups, forcing some activists into exile and others to avoid important work,” Mr. Richard Pearshouse, environmental director at HRW.

“These restrictions violate the rights to freedom of assembly and association and threaten Egypt’s ability to meet its environmental and climate action commitments” as host of COP27, added the advocacy group in a statement.

Egyptian authorities have recently championed concerns that industrialized countries – the biggest polluters – have failed to help developing African nations tackle the impacts of climate change for which the continent shares little blame.

But for an environmentalist quoted by HRW, it is “because it intersects with their interests, such as the need for more funds”.

HRW said it spoke to 13 activists, academics, scientists and journalists involved in climate action in Egypt, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

Rights groups have repeatedly condemned Egypt’s human rights record under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who toppled Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in 2013 before becoming head of state l ‘Next year.

They allege the country holds some 60,000 political prisoners, many of whom are accused of “spreading false news”.

HRW noted that interviewees pointed to a “recent expansion of official tolerance for environmental activities that are easily reconciled with government priorities.”

But the rights group said campaigners feared drawing attention to issues such as industrial pollution and the military’s involvement in “destructive forms of extraction”, as well as large infrastructure projects.

Major environmental organizations in Egypt “have been severely weakened by government restrictions and a pervasive sense of fear and uncertainty,” HRW said, citing several insiders within those entities.

Maria D. Ervin