Human rights campaigners in New York City have spent nearly two weeks on hunger strike outside the offices of the United Nations in protest against the rising number of politically motivated executions and death sentences in Egypt.
Thursday, 29 July, marked the 13th day of the hunger strike, organised by the campaign group Stop the Executions in Egypt, led by Egyptian Americans. The dozen or so participants are taking the drastic action in solidarity with hunger strikers in Egyptian prisons and to put pressure on the UN to call a halt to political executions.
An especial focus of the hunger strike is the death sentence for 12 activists, some of whom are senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose death sentences were upheld by the Egyptian court of cassation in June.
The Muslim Brotherhood was elected to the government after the 2011 revolution, only to be overthrown in the coup led by the current president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Since then, the new regime has stopped at nothing to erase their memory from existence.
Despite extremes in the New York weather – from pouring rain to scorching heat – the resolve of the hunger strikers has remained unbroken since they started their action on 17 July. They have launched a social media hashtag, #UNHungerStrike, and have attracted the attention of New Yorkers who pass their protest.
Medhat Kamal, a former international volleyball player, started his fast on the first day of the action, and said on social media that he will continue to refuse food until “the execution penalty is abolished in Egypt against the political activists in the prisons of the Egyptian army coup”.
He told reporters: “We are on a hunger strike to bring attention to the 12 men who are going to get killed by way of execution sanctioned by the Egyptian president. Our goal is to stop the executions of these 12 men and to abolish the practice of state-sanctioned executions in Egyptian law.
“The US is complicit because it has fiscally supported the coup through $1.3 billion in aid. We call on Biden to withdraw US military support to Egypt and push for the release of not just these 12 men but of the tens of thousands of political prisoners in Egyptian jails.”
Another of the hunger strikers, Dr Said Afifi, was forced to temporarily leave the sit-in, facing medical complications to his kidneys. But he received professional advice and soon returned to the group.
Participants say they will continue their action until the UN steps in to call an end to the politicised executions in Egypt.
The activists have also submitted a letter to the UN, informing Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of the demands of their protest.
In a Tweet, US congressman Ted Lieu has said that “Basic civil liberties have disappeared within #Egypt. We’re leading the effort to urge the Biden-Harris Administration to hold Egypt accountable for human rights concerns, particularly against members of the press.”
The regime of Egypt’s President Sisi has led to widespread international outrage, as more than a thousand prisoners face the death penalty for daring to criticise the government.
The 12 Egyptian activists facing the death penalty were alleged to have taken part in anti-regime sit-ins in Rabaa al-Adawiya square, in Cairo, in July and August 2013. The sit-in was brutally suppressed by the Egyptian state, with more than 1,000 protesters thought to have been killed by the regime.
The 12 were at first sentenced during a mass trial of 739 people in 2018, which was widely condemned by human rights groups.
These planned executions are just the latest to be announced by the Egyptian regime, which has executed more than 90 people so far since 2013 in political cases.
There are currently 68 prisoners facing death sentences in Egypt without any legal recourse, in addition to 1569 who have been sentenced to death on their first hearing.
Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK (AOHR UK) wholeheartedly backs the brave action taken by the hunger strikers in New York City. Their sit-in outside the United Nations in New York sends a message to the UN to take action against the brutal regime of president Sisi – but also draws attention to the role of the US, which finances it and treats Egypt as a key partner in international affairs.
AOHR UK calls on all human rights activists to show their support for these courageous hunger strikers and to raise awareness of and pressure against the crimes of the Sisi regime.