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SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt – This country, famous for one mighty river, will have hope wastewater stream which swept through the COP27 conference area was the pinnacle of an event that quickly turns into a public relations nightmare.

It seems unlikely.

The organization of the conference aimed to show Egypt as an ambitious master of renewable energy, a tourist destination and a reliable actor on the international stage. The talks themselves, which took place at the seaside resort, were intended to drive forward a global response to climate change.

Instead, top officials from Europe and elsewhere investigated reports that youth delegates were left without beds, forced to sleep in lockless rooms, and awakened at night by arbitrary document requests – all within the framework of program sponsored by the Egyptian Ministry of Youth and Sports.

About 80 young delegates who paid around $ 700 for accommodation, according to three familiar with the situation, arrived at the hotel late Saturday to find they either had no rooms or were asked to pay an additional fee of between $ 300 and $ 600 per night.

After hours of negotiations, some were forced to find a new apartment in the early hours of the morning. Those who finally entered their rooms – in some cases after agreeing to an extra charge – found them dirty and only had four beds for six or seven people. Several of them were forced to sleep in rooms without locks and were awakened by men entering and requesting passports.

Egypt’s COP organizers are now under strong diplomatic pressure over the situation, after key negotiators had to leave talks to ensure the safety of their young delegates. The EU and other delegations raised their concerns to the Egyptian government, said EU chief advisor on international climate policy Jacob Werksman.

Egyptian authorities said on Thursday they were “working almost an hour” to fix problems.

“The COP presidency intervened through government officials,” Wael Aboulmagd, Egypt’s special representative to the COP27 president told reporters. “I know problems that have occurred in at least one case where people were asked to leave [the hotel]. The instruction I can provide from the highest level of government was that it won’t happen, shouldn’t happen, won’t happen. ”

The COP27 talks were also criticized for food and water shortages – some delegates noted that the talks resembled an Olympic-style simulation of hunger that threatens millions of people with climate change. Or, as Global POLITICO Initiate let’s put it, the “green Fyre Festival.”

On Thursday, the organizers cut food prices by half. The drinks were free – meaning delegates no longer had to pay for bottles of Coca-Cola, the official sponsor and the biggest plastic poisoner on the ground.

Human rights crisis

A certain degree of sympathy emerged among the delegates for Egypt’s efforts to host the conference while negotiating a major food and economic crisis.

Even the richest nations struggle to organize major diplomatic events with around 30,000 or more delegates traveling to the host city – COP27 membership is 46,028, a UN official said. Last year’s COP26 summit – organized by Great Britain – became a legend due to sad sandwiches and kilometer long queues.

“I think people can see that as a developing country, we have put everything in our power to prepare a place where we will meet people to be successful,” Aboulmagd said.

But that sympathy is largely extinguished when it comes to the Egyptian government’s human rights situation. Many legal organizations have labeled Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, a former military general, as the authoritarian ruler who shut down critics and suppressed protests.

“We are holding COP in the midst of a climate crisis, in the midst of a human rights crisis,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general. “This is not one or two unlawful detentions, it is thousands of unlawful detentions. It is currently the largest prison in the world for political opposition.

Western security advisers warned delegates not to download the summit’s official application | Sean Gallup / Getty Images

POLITICO spoke to analysts who said the official COP27 smartphone app, which the government encouraged delegates to download, is a “cyber weapon” that could allow authorities to listen to private conversations and access encrypted texts and emails.

Aboulmagd denied this and argued that it was “technically impossible” due to the scrutiny that Google and Apple’s app stores placed on products.

Criticism of the Egyptian government’s crackdown on political opposition focused on the treatment of imprisoned activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah, who escalated the months-long hunger strike that coincided with the first day of the summit.

The case has been the subject of most of the world’s media on COP27, especially in the United Kingdom, where the political activist holds dual citizenship. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, along with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Olaf Scholz, supported El-Fattah during the COP27 meetings with El-Sisi.

Egyptian authorities notified El-Fattah’s mother on Thursday of “medical intervention” to save his life.

Speaking to POLITICO, El-Fattah’s cousin Omar Hamilton said the activist’s fate “depends” on a visit from US President Joe Biden, who will arrive in Sharm El-Sheikh on Friday.

US officials He said would like to talk about human rights with El-Sisi and that the US government is “concerned about this issue and his reported health condition.”

When asked about the case, COP27’s Aboulmagd said: “We got involved directly [with the U.K.] and gave a full explanation of the many charges that were made. ” He noted that El-Fattah’s sister, Sanaa Seif, traveled to the summit and held public events to defend her brother, one of which was loudly intermittent by the Egyptian MEP Amr Darwish.

Seif’s presence was “part of the freedom of speech,” Abulmagd said. “But at the same time, while it is an important point … We don’t want to ignore the climate catastrophe that is killing people all over the world.” He pointed out that the historic decision made on Sunday to hold talks on financing climate disaster recovery is a huge boon for the conference.

Asked by POLITICO if human rights issues had left the government concerned about Egypt’s image, Aboulmagd said: “So far I think our results are doing well.”

Human rights defenders say climate change and justice are inextricably linked. Even if the Egyptians didn’t really believe it, they should at least pretend they did, Callamard said.

“If they don’t do it out of compassion, they should do it out of their own interest,” she said, warning that if El-Fattah dies, “I can assure you that no one will remember COP27 in any other way historically than in the event of El-Fattah’s d*ath. . Alai’s d*ath.

Federica Di Sario and Charlie Cooper contributed to this article.

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