The crackdown in recent weeks by the military-supported government against the Muslim Brotherhood and its sympathizers has included the arrests of at least 70 university professors.
Some of them are well-known Brotherhood leaders. Others are said to have just have made gestures of sympathy to the Brotherhood, such as offering free textbooks to students with relatives killed in the first stage of the military crackdown. Formal charges against the professors have included inciting violence, being among those who set fire to Christian churches, and participating in the Brotherhood’s protests. Opinions among fellow academics and human-rights activists are mixed as to the legitimacy of the arrests.
The arrested professors’ names and positions have been published in Arabic Network News “Moheet”, an online news publication.
Some have rallied in support of the arrested professors. Late last month, Muslim Brotherhood professors protested in Menoufia University calling for the immediate release of those arrested and chanting anti-army slogans, according to the state-run Middle East News Agency. Professors clashed with administrative-building employees in an attempt to storm the office of the university president. No injuries were reported.
In Delga village in the Minya governorate, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice portal reported in October that some students resorted to Facebook to launch a campaign to release arrested professors at Minya University.
Also, the International Development Center, an independent, non-partisan research center, said that 70 professors have resigned for unidentified reasons. Mohamed Adel, executive manager of the International Development Center, speculated that the resignations are happening in protest over the arrests.
A pro-Morsi student at Al-Azhar University, Hazem Khater, said that “from each college, at least one professor is arrested. Some of them are not affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, but rather to the Islamic movement, yet they were just detained for condemning the military coup.” Another student, who declined to be identified, said professors were arrested just for being publicly sympathetic to the Brotherhood.
A sustained clampdown by both security forces and secular laymen on the Brotherhood has severely crippled the group’s ability to muster street support, prompting Muslim Brotherhood students and academics to use university campuses as a last resort to vent their anger against what they see is a coup. (See related article “Looking Behind Egyptian Student Protests.”)
Amna Nosseir, a professor of Islamic doctrine and philosophy at Al-Azhar University, has been a strong opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood. Commenting on the academics’ arrest, Nosseir said that most Muslim Brotherhood academics have studied in scientific colleges. She believes that 60 percent
of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated students and academics come from medical schools. “The group’s professors and students in such universities are extremists,” she said, “since they were mostly dedicated to sciences only, the group used to fill the vacuum in their minds with their ideology.”
While Nosseir said that it is likely that some academics were randomly and unfairly arrested, “they also share the blame for provoking the mainstream society and creating societal enmity against the group they are affiliated with. Eventually they exhausted both the Egyptian army and police.”
Adel, the executive manager of the International Development Center, said that there is no legislation to protect academics from arrests. The minister of higher education has not responded to the arrests. However, Adel said, “None of the professors are called up for interrogation on charges of promoting their political views on campus, but rather for involvement in off-campus incidents after the downfall of Morsi.”
Nosseir said she used to argue with Muslim Brotherhood professors and students, and was highly critical of how the group infiltrated university life. She remembers in December 2006 when about 50 masked and black-clad Muslim Brotherhood students staged a military style parade at Al-Azhar University.
Such an incident motivated a security clampdown against the group’s leaders, including Morsi. Nosseir said she expressed her anger to the Al-Azhar University president at the time, Ahmed Al-Tayeb, for letting state security randomly arrest students and professors. She said he told her, “Do not be optimistic, all negotiations with them have failed.”
“History repeats itself,” Nosseir concluded.