Jailed British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah has ended a months long hunger strike, his family said Tuesday, after fears for his health grew and amid criticism of Cairo during the ongoing COP27 climate summit.
Abdel Fattah, who consumed "only 100 calories a day" for seven months, escalated his strike, first to all food, then water as the COP27 climate summit opened on November 6 in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.
"I have ended the strike," the activist wrote in the letter handed to his family on Tuesday, but dated the day before, shared by his sister Mona Seif.
Abdel Fattah, 40, wrote to his mother, "I want to celebrate my birthday with you on Thursday".
In what was the second letter from the dissident received by his family in two days, Abdel Fattah asked his mother to "bring a cake" to her monthly visit to the Wadi al-Natroun prison, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) northwest of the capital Cairo.
"I'll see you on the visit day and tell you everything then, and we'll get back to long letters after the visit."
His sister, who has been campaigning for his freedom for years, said she welcomed the news with "cautious relief."
"My heart won't really be settled until Thursday when my mother and sister see him with their own eyes."
Abdel Fattah has been leading headlines since UN climate talks began last week in Egypt, which sought to burnish its image by hosting COP27 but has come under fire over its human rights record.
Rights groups estimate Cairo is holding some 60,000 political prisoners, many of them in brutal conditions and overcrowded cells.
- International pressure -
A key figure in the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, Abdel Fattah has spent much of the past decade since behind bars.
He is currently serving a five-year sentence for "spreading false news" by sharing a Facebook post about police brutality.
The hashtag #FreeAlaa has been a fixture of Egyptian social media for years, but was trending on Twitter for the first time in years as world leaders began arriving in Sharm el-Sheikh last week.
Several raised the case in bilateral meetings with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, notably US President Joe Biden on Friday.
Several speakers at the summit ended with the words "you have not yet been defeated" -- the title of Abdel Fattah's book published while behind bars.
Fears had mounted that prison authorities were force-feeding Abdel Fattah, after his mother was notified he had been put "under medical supervision".
His other sister Sanaa Seif was repeatedly heckled by pro-government attendees as she campaigned for his release at COP27, including one member of parliament who had to be escorted out by UN security.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, "state security forces arrested" journalist Ahmed Fayez for allegedly spreading fake news after he wrote a Facebook post "in which he claimed that prison authorities are force-feeding" Abdel Fattah.
On Friday, Mona Seif said the family had submitted a new request for a presidential pardon for Abdel Fattah.
That plea was picked up by one of Egypt's most watched talk show hosts, the ardently pro-Sisi Amr Adib.
On prime time television Friday, Adib said the pardon would be in "the interest of Egypt first and foremost".
After his family announced the end of the strike Tuesday, Tarek el-Awady - a member of the recently reactivated presidential pardoning committee - wrote on Twitter that he "hopes the state will take the necessary measures to quickly pardon" Abdel Fattah and other prisoners.