COP27: Protesters stage downsized climate change rally amid curbs on rights in Egypt

Campaigners have downsized their customary march during a United Nations climate summit in Egypt, where public protest is effectively banned and activists have endured a crackdown on dissent.

Rather than taking to the streets as usual, they staged the march inside the COP27 conference centre in Sharm El-Sheikh.

"We decided as movements to organise this particular moment here within the official venue for security reasons," said Gadir Lavadenz, from Global Campaign to Demand Justice.

The site of a COP summit temporarily becomes international territory governed by the UN, where international law applies, exempting it from local jurisdiction.

Traditionally campaigners stage a protest over the weekend half way through the two-week summit, aiming to platform different voices and heap pressure on negotiators and ministers to go further. They say they provide an important counter to the narrative of attendees from the fossil fuel industry, whose numbers spiked this year.

"We cannot have our voices heard outside; but we will certainly have our voices heard here," Tasneem Essop, director of Climate Action Network, said during an address to the crowd.

Last year, tens of thousands of people marched the streets through Glasgow during the COP26 climate summit. On Saturday, according to organisers, just a thousand people snaked their way through the outdoor area of the conference venue, carrying banners and placards and chanting through megaphones.

Egypt created a designated area for the protest this year, but it is fenced off and guarded by police, away from the main conference. Around 30 Egyptian youths gathered there in a neat line holding up placards and chanting "Save our
Planet," but steered clear of calling anyone to account.

"That doesn't make any sense to for us... The idea is to make noise... to interrupt and disrupt things, under of course a peaceful mindset," Gadir Lavadenz told Sky News. Otherwise, it's not a protest, he added.

Campaigner Emiliana, who travelled from Chile, said she felt safer to participate in a march inside the conference area "because there are multiple groups that are organising this together and because we are in in a place that is under UN protection".

She wanted to join the protest because "it's important to express the voices from different countries... from Latin America and voices from the Global South".

She added: "If they are not being heard in the big rooms, these closed meetings, they have to be heard somewhere."

Authorities say protest "similar to" those at other COPs is allowed. But campaigners, who see the annual meeting as a crucial opportunity to raise global alarm over climate breakdown, say restrictions on civil society since the overthrow of Egypt's first democratically elected president in 2013 cast a cloud over the conference.

They also accuse Cairo of stifling protest by holding COP27 in the Red Sea resort town, rather than the much busier capital. Several have complained of overbearing security checks, and western security advisers are warning against downloading the Egyptian government's official COP27 app, fearing it could be used to hack private calls and messages, Politico has reported.

Egypt's presidency has also been tainted by the outcry over imprisoned British-Egyptian writer and human rights defender Alaa Abd El-Fattah, whose sister Sanaa Seif travelled from London to COP27 to raise awareness of her brother's plight.

An Egyptian MP, Amr Darwish, a staunch defender of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi's rule, interrupted her during an address in the UN conference zone on Tuesday and was quickly ejected from the room.

The sister of the jailed hunger striker has since been told that a pro-government lawyer has filed a case against her accusing her of espionage and "spreading false news".

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