Manar Al-Tantawi: Punishing an Egyptian academic for defending her detained husband


The completion of the research necessary to obtain a professorship in countries that respect science and scientists is a great event that deserves to be celebrated by the scientific community. However, university professor Manar Al-Tantawi has run into misfortune twice: the first time was when security forces raided her and her husband, the journalist and academic researcher Hisham Jaafar’s home.

At that time, her husband was arrested and the security forces confiscated all equipment containing research that she had not completed at the time. The second time she obtained a licence from the scientific committee but her institution dean administratively refused to approve the decision to get her rights by granting her the professorship.

The Canadian-based Egyptian journalist Ossama Soffar described what is happening with the respected researcher Manar Al-Tantawi as a waste of the value of science and scholars. He stressed that these practices are not only in retaliation against a university professor but it is a waste.

Manar Al-Tantawi works at the Higher Technological Institute, 6th of October Branch (West of Cairo). She obtained her professorship after examining her scientific output by the Permanent Scientific Committee in December 2019. In February 2020, The Supreme Council of Universities issued a decision (for her) to obtain a professorship. The decision was sent to the institute. However, the Dean of the Institute, Othman Muhammad Othman, refused to approve the scientific title and the material and moral rights. Othman also refused to return her position (as the chair of the department).

According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the dean of the institute “continues to deny Tantawi a professorial degree, despite the approval of the scientific committee and the issuance of a decision by the Universities Supreme Council.” ANHRI said, “Although more than a year has passed since obtaining her academic degree, the institute’s dean continues to deny her right, violating the academic law and norms, as well as wasting her literary and material rights.” Although Al-Tantawi resorted to many friendly attempts to urge the dean of the institute to respect the law and academic norms and then sent him a legal warning on March 14 to stop the abuse, all of her attempts were unsuccessful.

Al-Shabaka says that Al-Tantawi is the oldest and most deserving of heading the department. Academic and journalist Hesham Jaafar published an apology to his wife Manar Al-Tantawi after the institute’s dean prevented her from obtaining her promotion and academic degree. Jaafar admitted that this was due to her defence of her husband, who was imprisoned for more than three years. Jaafar wrote on Facebook that my wife was “deprived of appointment in her academic degree for more than 16 months because she stood next to me defending me and showed people how much I love Egypt.” He added in his message: “What did Manar do but try to preserve what remains in my eye of sight, in light of difficult health conditions in the prison that is known as the Death Prison (Scorpion Prison)? What did my wife, who devoted herself to her work and her students for a quarter of a century, do?” He asked, “What did she do to prevent her from being appointed to the professorship despite her obtaining the degree? Who has an interest in depriving her of her right? Does advocating for her husband become a crime?”

The authorities released prisoner of conscience Hesham Jaafar after three and a half years in pretrial detention. On April 6, 2019, the Egyptian security forces released Jaafar after assaulting him in detention. Jaafar was arrested on October 21, 2015. He remained in pretrial detention for that entire period, even though no judicial verdict was issued against him. The security services say they have nothing to do with science issues. Those close to the regime deny that they have deprived her of scientific and legal rights. Nevertheless, the institute’s repeated responses suggest that the security services are now in control of academics’ rights. It is noteworthy that Manar’s story is not the only one in Egypt. Many were punished because of the opinions or the arrest of their relatives.

The announcement of what happened to Manar coincides with an episode of The Choice drama, which sparked widespread controversy. In that scene, one of the representatives denies that the Egyptian police have targeted the families of the accused and wanted persons. In this scene, one of the defendants appeared asking the state security officer, who plays the artist Karim Abdel Aziz, to promise her that no harm would come to her family.

The female defendant said to him, “Promise me that my father, my mother, and my brothers nothing bad will not happen to them,” so the state security officer responded: “We have no concern with your family. We hold accountable those who make mistakes. They are in our eyes, and we will protect them.” The scene sparked the anger and ridicule of followers on social media, in light of the repeated incidents of the arrest of the families of detainees or wanted persons to pressure them to surrender themselves or stop activities that the Egyptian authority does not want.

Activists cited famous examples of violations by the Egyptian regime against relatives of political opponents. Most notably, Ola, the daughter of the scholar Yusef Al-Qaradawi, and her husband, Hossam Khalaf, have been in prison for nearly four years, as a form of revenge against Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, whom the Egyptian regime is hostile to. Examples also included the daughter of Khairat Al-Shater, the deputy guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, and arresting of relatives of the activist Mohamed Soltan, after he filed a case against Hazem Al-Beblawy, the former prime minister of Egypt, before the American court. The Egyptian authorities released them later.

There are other examples, including the arrest of the brothers of opposition media professionals to pressure them to stop criticising the Egyptian regime. This happened with the media professionals Moataz Matar, Muhammad Nasser, Sami Kamal El-Din, and Hisham Abdullah.