“Patrick George” by Mauro Biani (2020)
There has been a concerning rise in Egyptian authorities targeting academics and researchers over the last few years, specifically those who are based abroad upon their return to Egypt. Most recently, historian Alia Mossallam was briefly detained upon arrival at Cairo Airport last month. Mossallam, who lives and works in Berlin, was released on bail following a lengthy interrogation. Egyptian historian Khaled Fahmy tweeted about the situation, stating that the “Egyptian government continues its attack on academic freedom. Last night Alia Mossallam, an Egyptian post-doctoral fellow at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Berlin was detained upon arrival at Cairo airport and interrogated by State Security Prosecution.” Mona Seif, sister of iconic Egyptian detained activist Alaa Abdel Fattah chimed in as well, and described the incident as part of “Egypt's madness!”
While Mossallam was released, not all other academics have so treated. Ahmed Samir Santawi, an anthropology MA student at Central European University (CEU), was similarly detained when he arrived at Cairo Airport in February 2021, but on the 22nd of June, Ahmed was sentenced to four years in prison, based on charges of spreading false news about the situation in Egypt from abroad. The same month he was charged, Santawi went on a 40-day hunger strike in protest of his detention and charges.
The detentions of this summer are part of a larger trend of Egyptian authorities detaining Egyptian academics and leveraging similar charges against them.
The detention of several academics cannot be separated from the Egyptian government’s recent intention “to establish a specialized database of all Egyptian scientists and senior experts residing outside the country.” Meanwhile, Egyptian Minister of Migration (MOI), Nabila Makram Ebeid, noted that Egyptians who live and study abroad are very vulnerable to being brainwashed. These parallel moves constitute serious grounds for concern around Egypt’s persecution of academics based abroad. Universities in the West should be held accountable for protecting the physical and intellectual freedoms of their students while hosting and publishing their projects. Effective and urgent coalitions between private and public academic institutions should be formed not only to push for releasing researchers who are currently in prison but also to support a safe environment for those who are fortunately still outside. Moreover, the universities should take their students’ concerns seriously while planning for their research and programs even if these concerns would disrupt their relations and interests with Egyptian political authorities and diplomatic delegations.