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: September 24, 2019

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Cairo University

Region & Country:Northern Africa | Egypt

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On September 24, 2019, Egyptian authorities detained and imprisoned Cairo University scholars Hasan Nafaa, Hazam Hosni, Magdi Kerqar, and Ahmad Helmy Hamdun as part of a broad crackdown on government critics following the outbreak of protests against the rule of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

In September 2019, a series of videos claiming that President el-Sisi had been directly involved in various acts of corruption, including the use of public funds to build a seaside palace and a luxury hotel, were spread virally throughout Egypt. Allegations of corruption sparked outrage among many Egyptians who had been suffering from a steep increase in the cost of living in part tied to government austerity measures. On September 20, large-scale protests erupted in major cities across Egypt, including Cairo, Alexandria, and the port city of Suez, calling for the removal of the el-Sisi government.

Egyptian authorities responded by using violent force to quell demonstrations and arresting more than two thousand people in connection to the protests and anti-government expression. Chief among those arrested and imprisoned were scholars, opposition political figures, lawyers, and journalists.

On September 24, authorities arrested and imprisoned Hasan Nafaa, a professor of economics. On September 26, Egypt’s Supreme Court sentenced him to fifteen days imprisonment for “participat[ing] in a terrorist group” and “spread[ing] false news,” among other offenses. These charges appear to be connected to Nafaa’s agreement to speak with journalists about political affairs in Egypt and a social media post criticizing el-Sisi and calling for Egyptians to protest. Authorities reportedly approved an extension of Nafaa’s detention after a public prosecutor levied five additional terrorism-related charges.

On the same day as Nafaa’s arrest, authorities also arrested and imprisoned Hazem Hosni, also a professor of economics and political science, on similar charges, in connection to comments he made on Facebook prior to his arrest. Hosni initially received a fifteen-day prison sentence that authorities have repeatedly renewed.

Also on September 24, authorities detained Magdi Kerqar, a professor of urban planning and the secretary general of the Istiqlal opposition party, alongside a number of other opposition figures. Kerqar’s political party had previously released a statement supporting the September 20 protests.

And on September 26, media sources indicated that state authorities had abducted Ahmad Helmy Hamdun, a teaching assistant in the Faculty of Economics and Political Science. Authorities reportedly held him incommunicado for several days before sentencing him to fifteen days in prison on undisclosed charges. Authorities have repeatedly renewed his detention.

As of this report, Nafaa, Hosni, Kerqar, and Hamdun remain in detention.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention of four scholars in apparent retaliation for their peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and 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 intended to restrict expressive activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.