On December 11, 2015, Cairo University reportedly notified doctoral student Kholoud Saber that her research sabbatical at the University of Louvain (UCL), in Belgium, had been terminated due to alleged security clearance issues, and called on her to return to Egypt or risk dismissal.
Ms. Saber is an assistant lecturer in psychology at Cairo University and a prominent activist for women’s rights and academic freedom in Egypt. In October 2015, having received approval from the department of psychology and other Cairo University officials, she traveled to Belgium to begin a doctoral research sabbatical at UCL, where she began conducting research on female survivors of sexual violence. Despite the university’s approval, the General Administration of Surveying and Information of Egypt’s Ministry of Higher Education (MHE) reportedly revoked her security clearance, and ordered Cairo University officials to terminate her sabbatical.
On December, 11, 2015, Cairo University officials informed Ms. Saber that her sabbatical had been terminated and ordered her to return to Egypt to take up another position at the university, or else risk dismissal. According to Ms. Saber, neither MHE nor Cairo University officials explained why she was denied security clearance. She subsequently filed a lawsuit contesting the order, attracting attention from the media and human rights groups. In February 2016, Cairo University reportedly reinstated her sabbatical.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the revocation of a research sabbatical as well as threats of further disciplinary proceedings against a scholar in apparent response to academic research and the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and association, conduct which is protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. State and university authorities have a responsibility to protect academic freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of association, and to refrain from imposing administrative pressures and threats of disciplinary action intended to limit these freedoms. Such actions undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.