Egypt activist was close to death: family

Prominent Egyptian-British activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah was close to death when he broke his hunger strike and needed to be revived after collapsing in a prison in Egypt, his family says after visiting him for the first time in weeks.

Abdel-Fattah had been on full or partial hunger strike against his detention and prison conditions since April 2, then escalated his protest by ceasing to drink water on November 6, the opening day of the COP27 climate summit in Egypt.

The activist said in a letter earlier this week that he had ended his strike.

After speaking with him from behind a glass partition during the meeting at Wadi al-Natrun jail northwest of Cairo, the first visit in nearly a month, the family said his health had deteriorated sharply.

They said he had collapsed in the shower on November 11 before falling unconscious then being revived. "He talked about all of this as a near-death experience. This is how the hunger strike was broken," they said in a statement on Thursday.

They said that on November 8, Abdel-Fattah refused to submit to a medical examination without official recognition of his strike, so a riot squad carried him away before he fought back and was returned to his cell.

"When they put him in the cell he started to smash his head against the wall. He was restrained and tied down," they said.

Egypt's public prosecution said Abdel-Fattah had undergone medical checks and his condition was good.

Its November 10 statement, which Abdel-Fattah's family said was packed with inaccuracies, said his hunger strike was "questionable".

The hunger strike has loomed over the COP27 climate talks at an Egyptian resort. US President Joe Biden and European leaders raised the case with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi last week.

An activist and blogger who rose to prominence in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, Abdel-Fattah became a symbol for thousands of Egyptians who were swept up in later crackdowns.

He was in a cell alongside Peter Greste before the Australian journalist was released and deported in February 2015 after 13 months in jail.

When he began his strike he had recently obtained British citizenship, a move his family hoped would help secure his release. British officials have been denied consular visits.

Abdel-Fattah's sister Sanaa Seif, who went to COP27 to campaign for his release and was among the relatives to visit on Thursday, said he looked very thin and had told his family he felt relieved when he was close to death.

"He is in a very volatile state, he kept losing his train of thought," Seif told Reuters. "When I started telling him about the campaign he started to pay attention and said that he's ready to go back to the hunger strike but I told him, 'No, you must rest'."

Sisi, who led the military overthrow of Egypt's first democratically elected president in 2013, has denied there are political prisoners in the country.