Egypt – Academic Freedom Threatened

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There are concerns over the ideological control of universities after a recent crackdown on researchers.

According to a prominent academic and women’s rights activist Cairo University Professor Khulud Sabir, Egyptian authorities are cracking down on academic freedoms after they refused to allow her to take up a post in Belgium.

She was told that her permit to carry out research abroad had been unexpectedly withdrawn by the university’s Survey and Information Office. However the Higher Education Ministry said they had been too hasty to issue the permit in the first place.

It is law that Egyptian academics must apply for permission from state security bodies in order to travel internationally. According to a joint statement by 20 Egyptian advocacy groups this “has dangerous implications for academic freedom.”

The statement pointed to increasing incidents of forbidding research, prosecuting researchers and denying travel, stating that ideological and governmental controls are part of a campaign to dictate the political narrative.

According to statistics in the 2014/15 academic year an estimated 800 students were arrested and 281 expelled. A further 1,850 are currently in detention according to the Adalah Centre for Rights and Freedoms.

One scholar, Imad Shahin, who worked for an American University in Cairo, was sentenced, in absentia, to death in May 2015 for publishing articles critical of the ruling regime. The government has also introduced a decree allowing it to appoint university presidents and deans, and to sack academic staff with no disciplinary review.

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American University, Cairo. CC 2009

In another recent incident Cambridge University PhD student Giulio Regeni was found dead in Cairo on February 3rd. Italian security services claimed to have a credible witness who saw Regeni being stopped by plain-clothes security officers near his home in Cairo on the eve of his disappearance. Egyptian authorities have denied any involvement in his death.

Mr Regeni reportedly left his flat in the el-Dokki area of Giza, at around 8pm to meet friends at a birthday party in the centre of Cairo. His body was found by the side of the road many miles from both locations, nine days later on February 3rd.

According to reports there were also signs of torture, his body shows signs of stab wounds, bruising, a severed ear and cigarette burns; he “suffered a slow death” said Cairo prosecutor Ahmed Nagi.

Suspicions of a cover-up by security forces increased after local media quoted a police official, General Khaled Shalabi, stating “the first investigations suggest he was the victim of a car accident” – despite the apparent torture.

The witness claimed that Regeni was stopped near Bohooth metro stop on January 25th, when he was on his way to visit Hassamein Kashek, considered a leading anti-President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi intellectual.

Sources also revealed that Regeni had noticed being photographed by an unknown observer at a meeting on December 11th.

Media in Italy have reported strong suspicions that the security forces interrogated him due to his research into labour and other forms of advocacy. Regeni had written many articles under a pseudonym for Egyptian trade unions and left wing Italian newspaper Il Manifesto.

There are concerns that this is part of an increasing trend of intimidation and crackdown on opposition members and critics, both domestic and international.

(BBC Monitoring 12/2; The Independent 4, 8, 12/2)

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

EGYPT: Cairo Killings
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue.1, Pp.20860C–20861B

EGYPT: Police Brutality
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.12, Pp.20827C–20828C

EGYPT: Corruption Scandal
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.9, Pp.20704C–20705B

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