The COP26 event in Glasgow predictably ended in failure as capitalist leaders were unable to agree a deal to phase out fossil fuels and keep global warming to 1.5 degrees. This was entirely predictable, which was why International Socialist Alternative prioritised mobilising a socialist bloc to protest COP26 and demand the systemic change that’s needed. Our bloc involved workers and young people from all over Europe, and even from as far away as the US and Brazil. Anyone who attended the protests, and the rally we organised, would have come away inspired.
We were joined on the Saturday protest by a wide range of different groups – from school students to trade unionists – all of whom shared the frustration at the continued lack of action by the world leaders that had gathered in Glasgow. In total over 100,000 people took part on the march.
This mass mobilisation is apparently something that COP organisers at the United Nations want to avoid for COP27 and COP28. This is shown in the choice of host countries for these events. COP27 will take place, from the 7th to the 18th of November November 2022, in Sharm El Sheikh, a city on the southernmost tip of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. The following COP28 event is due to take place in 2023 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE.) COP organisers may claim that this brings the conference to Africa and the Middle East. However, one thing that these two countries have notably in common with each other is a terrible state repression, including brutal suppression of protests and workers’ struggles.
Egypt’s current president is Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, a former field marshall of the Egyptian military who rose to power in 2014 after orchestrating the 2013 military coup against the Mohamed Morsi government. His regime is deeply authoritarian. Elections in 2018 saw opposition candidates removed with arrest and threats. In the end only a pro-Al-Sisi government candidate, Moussa Mostafa ran in token opposition. Al-Sisi received 97% of the votes in an election where only 41% of the population voted. Hosting the COP27 event under his rule is actually an insult to the Egyptian people whose democratic rights are systematically denied by the Al-Sisi government. It is a farcical decision that further tarnishes the reputation of the COP talks. But perhaps the logic of the decision, from a capitalist point of view, can be seen when you look at Al-Sisi’s history of brutally attacking protesters.
For example, in August 2013, after the military coup had removed Mohamed Morsi but before Al-Sisi had taken control of the country, the future leader (at this point a general) raided two protest camps in Cairo. Both of the sites, one at al-Nadha square and a larger one at Rabaa al-Adawiya square, were being occupied by demonstrators including some supporters of the deposed president Morsi. After failing to disperse peaceful sit-ins the police and army raided the camps. The numbers of deaths have never been confirmed. But at least 904 people were massacred (at least 817 in Rabaa Square and at least 87 in al-Nadha square.) The true number of deaths is likely to be closer to 1,000 or possibly higher. Infrared satellite footage appeared to show members of the Muslim Brotherhood firing at police, but it has been pointed out by several commentators that that the brutality of the police response was probably deliberately designed to provoke a violent response. The Rabaa massacre was one of the largest killings of demonstrators in a single day and sparked a wave of violent retributions, including attacks on police stations and some sectarian violence including the burning of Coptic churches.
While nothing in the 7 years of Al-Sisi’s rule of Egypt has matched the bloodshed of the Rabaa massacre the regime has continued to show an iron-fisted intolerance of dissent and protest. In September 2019, protestors, largely of the younger generation, defied the 6-year ban on demonstrations to protest against the Al-Sisi administration. Those attending the protest again faced the brutality of the riot police under Al-Sisi’s rule and were met with rubber bullets, tear gas and live rounds. Protests began on Friday 20 September and by the Sunday arrests had risen to at least 220, with police struggling to keep up with the unexpected size of the protests. A 12-day nationwide crackdown followed with more than 2,300 people being arrested (government authorities only recognised around half of these arrests) while news and political websites were blocked. There were several reported cases of people being arrested merely for being in the vicinity of the protests or simply for having anti-government slogans, songs or posts on their phones (many of these people were later charged with being part of the protests). Those arrested were held in secret detention centres where they were denied visits from family members or lawyers.
This is the same repressive state apparatus that climate protestors would be faced with if they were to attend COP27 to demonstrate. This can hardly be seen as an accident by COP organisers. Their solution to protests that expose the failing capitalist system is to hold the talks in a country where protesting would be extremely difficult to organise. This shows the desperation of the capitalist class to hide the fact that they have no solutions to the climate crisis. They want to avoid the scrutiny they received from the working class at COP26, hiding behind the repressive regime of an authoritarian government.
The UAE is also an unsafe destination for climate protests. This is again a deeply authoritarian state where Sharia courts have exclusive jurisdiction over several types of criminal case. Homosexuality is illegal and a man in 2013 a man was put on trial for a “gay handshake.” Merely kissing in public in the UAE can lead to deportation. Flogging and stoning are legal punishments and there are many cases of citizens being abducted and tortured by the government. In August 2015, Emirati academic Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith was arrested for criticising the Raaba massacre in Egypt and has not been heard from since. Like Egypt, this is a country where protest is illegal and peaceful demonstrators face immediate arrest.
Although protesting against COP27 and COP28 in Egypt and the UAE would be far more dangerous due to the repressive nature of the respective regimes, the anger on display against world leaders at COP26 cannot be silenced so easily. Protests can follow the capitalist leaders, whatever location they choose, and waves of climate demos and strikes around the world must be organised. COP26 showed a glimpse of what’s possible. Now young people and workers need to fight to make sure those protests were only the start. As a first step, we call for climate assemblies – drawing together trade unions, students, climate activists and community campaigners – to discuss mobilising for the next global climate strike. Also on the agenda must be the question of what alternative to the capitalist system that’s killing the planet – how can we fight for the socialist change needed? The farcical host selection for the next two COP events shows the ruling class running scared of mass organised resistance. They are right to be fearful.