SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: June 25, 2019

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):American University Cairo | London School of Economics

Region & Country:Northern Africa | Egypt

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On June 25, 2019, police reportedly arrested Omar el-Shenety, a prominent economist and professor at the American University in Cairo and the London School of Economics, and seven others — including activists, journalists, and a former lawmaker — in apparent retaliation for their planned participation in elections.

El-Shenety is a scholar of economics who is also well known in Egypt as a journalist and owner of a nationwide chain of bookstores. In 2017, Egyptian authorities accused el-Shenety of being a member of the Muslim Brootherhood, which the government had declared a terrorist organization, and froze the assets of his bookstore. The move took place alongside a wave of government actions targeting literary and artistic figures and centers.

Reports indicate that in summer 2019, el-Shenety and the seven other individuals met to discuss the possibility of forming an opposition party to participate in Egypt’s 2020 parliamentary elections.

Police reportedly raided the homes of el-Shenety and the seven others in the early morning of June 25, and arrested them. Egypt’s Ministry of Interior issued a statement shortly thereafter accusing those detained of working with members of the Muslim Brotherhood outside the country to overthrow the Egyptian government on the sixth anniversary of the June 30 protests that brought President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to power. As of this report, el-Shenety remains in prison.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention of a scholar and others in apparent retaliation for their peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of association — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from restricting or retaliating against such conduct, so long as it is carried out peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, arbitrary arrests and prosecutions undermine freedom of expression, academic freedom, and democratic society generally.