CAIRO — Alaa Abd El Fattah, the imprisoned British-Egyptian dissident who has been on hunger strike for more than seven months in a bid to win his freedom, has broken his strike even though he remains behind bars, his family said on Tuesday.
Mr. Abd El Fattah, who his family says had consumed 100 daily calories of milk and honey in his tea for nearly seven months before going on full hunger strike on Nov. 1, stopped drinking water on Nov. 6, the day a two-week United Nations-sponsored climate conference began in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh.
That guaranteed his name would cloud the proceedings. For days, Egyptian officials who had seen hosting the summit as a chance at long-sought prestige found themselves instead besieged by questions about their best-known political prisoner. The leaders of the United States, France, Germany and Britain, where Mr. Abd El Fattah holds dual citizenship, all raised the issue in private meetings with Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Despite the mounting pressure on the Egyptian authorities to free Mr. Abd El Fattah, there has been no indication so far that his hunger strike will lead to his release.
In a brief handwritten note dated 4 p.m. Monday, Mr. Abd El Fattah asked his mother, Laila Soueif, to bring food when she visits him at Wadi el-Natroun prison on Thursday, his birthday, according to his family, which received the letter on Tuesday. But he did not say why he had decided to resume eating. He also began drinking water again on Saturday, he told his family in a previous letter they received on Monday.
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“I want to celebrate my birthday with you on Thursday, I haven’t celebrated for a long time, and want to celebrate with my cellmates, so bring a cake, normal provisions, I’ve broken my strike,” he wrote to Ms. Soueif in the most recent letter, which his family said was in his handwriting. “I’ll explain everything on Thursday.”
While his family expressed relief that he was alive and apparently well, they — and the activists, celebrities and Nobel laureates around the world who had lent their support to his campaign for release — were not sure what to make of the developments.
Family members said they had no further information about what was driving Mr. Abd El Fattah’s decision, but that they hoped to learn more on Thursday, the date of his monthly 20-minute family visit, when relatives are allowed to bring food and other supplies.
His family said last Thursday that they had learned prison authorities had begun a “medical intervention” on Mr. Abd El Fattah. Without further information, they feared he was being force-fed. No one has been able to see him since he began refusing water, with his lawyer, Khaled Ali, denied access three times despite having received official permits to visit.
Mr. Abd El Fattah and his supporters had hoped to make the most of the global attention trained on Egypt during the climate summit to pile on the pressure for his freedom. With the conference ending later this week, it is not clear where the campaign goes next.
“I feel cautiously relieved now knowing that at least he’s not on hunger strike,” Mona Seif, one of his sisters, said in a statement on Tuesday, “but my heart won’t really be settled until Thursday when my mother and sister see him with their own eyes.”
Egypt, which has repeatedly cast doubt on whether Mr. Abd El Fattah was actually on hunger strike or really holds British citizenship, has only hardened its stance in response to the international pressure for his release.
Pro-government media outlets and government supporters began saying that Mr. Abd El Fattah, who was found guilty in 2019 of spreading false news over a social media post detailing human rights abuses in prison, was a convicted criminal who deserved no special treatment.
An Egyptian lawmaker and other Egyptians repeating the government line confronted his sister Sanaa Seif at public events during the summit.
Some government supporters have twisted previous social media posts by Mr. Abd El Fattah, who was heavily involved in Egypt’s 2011 Arab Spring revolution, to suggest that he had incited violence against the Egyptian military and police.