On March 29, 2021, the Faculty of Mass Communication at Cairo University announced its decision to suspend Dr. Ayman Mansour Nada, a renowned journalism professor and head of the university’s Radio and Television Department, while the university investigated him, apparently for his social media activity.
Around the beginning of March 2021, Nada published criticisms on Facebook of the state of the media and media professionals in Egypt, including TV anchor Ahmed Moussa – who Middle East Eye has called one of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s “most well-known mouthpieces.” In a now deleted post, Nada stated that Moussa did not meet the performative and cultural standards of a good presenter and often made professional mistakes. In response, Moussa posted on Facebook accusing Nada of bullying and abuse and stating that his legal advisor would be filing a complaint against Nada with the public prosecutor. Shortly after, the Faculty of Mass Communication published a statement on its Facebook page distancing itself from Nada’s criticisms and affirming its “respect and appreciation for all media colleagues.”
On March 4, two days after the university’s Facebook statement, Masrawy reported that Cairo University had summoned Nada for investigation, allegedly for violating the university’s values by assaulting the former vice dean, Dr. Barakat Abdulaziz, during a Graduate Studies Committee meeting months prior. According to El Watan News, a senior law professor at Cairo University was carrying out the investigation in accordance with Article 106 of the Universities Organizing Law. Nada continued to post controversial assessments of Egyptian media and criticisms of its key figures on his Facebook account over the following weeks. On March 25, Egypt’s Supreme Council for Media Regulation – whose leader, Karam Jabr, was among those criticized by Nada – and the National Press Authority announced they had submitted criminal complaints against Nada to the Egyptian Public Prosecutor for defamation, sparking an investigation by the Public Prosecution Office. Then, on March 29, the university announced that it was suspending Nada, purportedly to limit his influence on the university’s investigation. According to Al Jazeera, Nada’s supporters allege that all these actions have been taken to silence him, and many anticipated such retaliation to his posts. On April 1, Nada shared a “final post” on social media explaining how President el-Sisi could improve the state of Egyptian media before closing his account.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by the suspension and threat of prosecution against a scholar, apparently for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression – conduct which is expressly protected by 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 and university authorities have an obligation to refrain from taking actions to restrict or retaliate against such conduct, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, suspension and prosecution intended to restrict or otherwise deter the nonviolent expressive activity of scholars undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.