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Report Says 2015 Was a Bad Year for Egyptian Students’ Freedom

CAIRO—A human rights organization, Freedom Students Observatory, says that the past year has been difficult for Egyptian students who criticize the government. Many students have experienced arbitrary arrest and military trial while a few have been killed, the organization says.

The observatory outlined its findings in an infographic.

Freedom Students Observatory uses a network of researchers in all the provinces of Egypt. The organization has been criticized for having leanings toward the Muslim Brotherhood, but other organizations don’t think this automatically invalidates their findings.

“Some members of Freedom Students Observatory belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood,” says Mohammed Nagy, a researcher at the Cairo-based Association for Free Thought and Expression. “This is not necessarily an indicator to confirm or deny the accuracy of the data.”

The infographic highlighted the following:

  • 25 students were killed outside of the law’s due process at the hands of the Egyptian security services.
  • 1,010 students were arrested illegally—that’s an average of three students a day.
  • 140 students were referred to military trials.
  • The whereabouts of 400 students and information on their state is not known. They include 390 male students and 10 female students. The organization uses the term “enforced disappearance” to describe these cases.
  • 286 students were expelled from their university for political reasons.

The Egyptian government, for its part, denies enforced disappearances and similar accusations of human rights abuses.

“With complete confidence there are no forced disappearances in Egypt for any person, and whoever claims otherwise must provide evidence,” said Salah Fouad, the interior minister’s aid for human rights, in an interview last October with Egyptian state media.

The government routinely says that reports to the contrary are part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s propaganda campaign.

The students who were subjected to arbitrary detention attended both private and public universities. Cairo University, Alexandria University, Mansoura University, Fayoum University and Ain Shams University had the most of these incidents, the organization said.

“The Egyptian university student community, like those now in Egyptian society, are sharply divided into supporters and opponents of the regime,” says a student at Mansoura University who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.

“While opponents of the regime see the data from the infographic as clear evidence of the effect of the strong hammer of the police state,” the student continued, “regime supporters see it as either propaganda or one-sided and not neutral data.”

Al Fanar Media contacted several university professors to ask them about the data but received no response.

Freedom Students Observatory said the alleged infringements violate international and domestic law on freedom of thought, opinion and expression.

The organization advocates the following:

  • Releasing all students arbitrarily detained on political charges.
  • Investigating the killings outside of the law’s due process and charging those responsible with criminal charges.
  • Releasing information on the fate of those subject to “enforced disappearances.”
  • Ending the criminal trials of civilians and moving such trials to civil courts.
  • Return of all students dismissed for political reasons to their universities.

Egyptian students who suffered these punishments typically either oppose the current regime or supported the ousted President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The data from the infographic is in line with reports from other human rights organizations such as Scholars At Risk and the Association for Freedom of Thought.

An Egyptian political activist, Taqadum Alkhatib, a researcher at the Department of Historical and Cultural Studies of the Free University of Berlin, says that what is happening to students in Egypt is telling of the broader society.

“Universities reflect the general political, social and economic situation in any country, particularly in countries where there is political unrest, like Egypt,” says Alkhatib.

Alkhatib is also a member of the March 9 Movement, which advocates for independent universities and has opposed state security, government, and other ideological interventions in Egyptian university campuses.

“Violence and counter-violence are a direct result of the oppressive measures of the Egyptian government,” says Alkhatib.

“The first step to stop violent conflict at universities,” he adds, “is that the government must give students a space to practice academic freedom.”

International organizations are also concerned.

“By continuing to follow academic freedom violations, by protesting them when they occur, and by joining with other organizations,” says Laurie Brand, chair of the Committee on Academic Freedom at the Middle East Studies Association,
“we can raise the profile of these violations and offer solidarity with those in Egypt.”

Irv Epstein, director of the Center for Human Rights and Social Justice at Illinois Wesleyan University, echoes Brand’s views.

“It is deeply disturbing that such campus violations occur on a regular basis,” he says.

“It is vitally important,” he adds, “to monitor academic freedom abuses and to enhance international awareness.”

Robert Quinn, executive director of the Scholars at Risk Network at New York University, is concerned about the arrests and prosecutions and says they suggest retaliation for non-violent expressions.

“Such violations not only harm the individual victims, but they harm all of Egyptian


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