President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime continues to violate freedom of opinion and expression in Egyptian universities, in particular towards Egyptian faculty staff and academics. Recently, the regime has detained university professors in custody pending political cases, to punish them for practicing their right to express their opinions and participate in public affairs. The Foundation for Freedom of Thought and Expression, a foundation concerned with promoting and protecting freedom of thought and expression in Egypt, issued a report a few days ago entitled “Pretrial detention as a punishment for opposition university professors.” The report provided examples of the numerous violations committed by the Egyptian regime against university professors in order to quell their opinions and their constitutional rights.
Suppression of teachers’ participation in public affairs
Dr. Hassan Nafaa, Professor of Political Science at the Faculty of Economics and Political Sciences at Cairo University, was subjected in pretrial detention from September 25, 2019, until March 19, after security services arrested him on his way back from work. He was presented to the State Security Prosecution who charged him with publishing and broadcasting false news and information, and using a social media account to broadcast this false news. On the same day, Dr. Hazem Hosni, a professor of political science at Cairo University who was the spokesperson for Lieutenant General Sami Annan’s running for presidency campaign, and who is known for his opinions opposing al-Sisi’s policies, was arrested and brought to the State Security Prosecution. He was faced with charges of: assisting a terrorist group in achieving its purposes, broadcasting and spreading false rumours inciting disturbing public security, and misusing social media by broadcasting and publishing false rumours. The Supreme State Security Prosecution is still renewing Hosni’s detention until now, ignoring his health condition and demands for his release due to the absence of reasons for his detention. Also, last September, security services arrested Dr. Magdi Qarqar, professor and head of the Department of Environmental Planning and Infrastructure at the Faculty of Urban Planning at Cairo University, and Secretary-General of the Independence Party, after storming into his home at dawn. After his disappearance for 12 days and his family not knowing where he was held or the reason for his arrest, he then appeared in the Supreme State Security Prosecution under investigation pending case 1350 of 2019. The State Security restricted his charges to joining a terrorist group. Ahmed Hamdoun, an assistant teacher at the Faculty of Economics and Political Sciences at Cairo University, was arrested on September 28 after security forces stormed into a café where he was with his brother, human rights lawyer Mohamed Helmy Hamdoun, and his wife, the women’s rights activist Asmaa Dabis. The three of them were subjected to enforced disappearance until they were transferred from Damanhour to Cairo so they could be interrogated on charges of participating in a terrorist group, spreading false news, misusing social media, and protesting without permission. The assistant teacher, Ahmed Hamdoun, remained in detention for two months before he was released from custody. These are just examples of what the Egyptian regime is doing to distinguished university professors because they dared to express their dissenting opinions.
Their crime is demanding better wages
Violations carried out by the security services did not stop at restrictions on the participation of university professors and faculty members in general political and social affairs, but rather they interrupted their attempts to reform the structure of university education and improve the financial, material, scientific and literary conditions of professors. Last August, a group of university professors launched an electronic campaign on social media demanding an increase in salaries and pensions of faculty members in Egyptian universities and scientific research workers in Egypt, an improved health care system and increasing government funding directed to scientific research in Egypt to match global rates. A large number of faculty members published complaints related to the high costs of scientific research and the costs of publishing in international scientific fields. These posts appeared with the hashtag “Egyptian scholars are angry” on social media. Dr. Abdel Azim Gamal, Professor of Immunology and Microbiology at Suez Canal University published an article expressing the campaign’s demands and the problems facing faculty members, stating that: “The professor dr’s pension if he dies is about 1,200 [Egyptian] pounds, the assistant professor 700 pounds, the professor about 500 pounds, and the teaching assistant 250 pounds.” Dr. Gamal also touched on the problem of financing scientific research, which, in his words, costs tens of thousands of pounds, in addition to the cost of publishing in international fields. Gamal mentioned that some university professors were unable to pay publishing fees despite their research being accepted. After the campaign was met with a strong reaction from faculty members in different Egyptian universities, security services arrested two university professors who were active in managing and promoting the campaign, Abdel AzizHassan, a professor at Benha University, and Abdel Azim Gamal, a professor at the Suez Canal University. Gamal was released after interrogation, but Al-Sheikh was taken from his home to the National Security Agency headquarters on the evening of August 31 “without a permission from the prosecution,” and remained forcibly disappeared for four days. He then appeared in the State Security Prosecution and was detained for 15 days pending investigation with the charge of creating an electronic account containing false ideas and news that harms public safety, and the possession of publications containing false ideas with the aim of disrupting public work. The Supreme State Security Prosecution continued to renew the imprisonment of Dr. Tariq Al-Sheikh until his release after nearly two and a half months of pretrial detention. The irony here is that Dr. Tariq Al-Sheikh was formally assigned by the Supreme Council of Universities to study improving financial conditions for university professors.