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: May 24, 2021

Attack Types: Travel Restrictions

Institution(s):University of Washington

Region & Country:Northern Africa | Egypt

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On May 24, 2021, Egyptian authorities barred Walid Salem, a PhD candidate at the University of Washington and an Egyptian citizen, from traveling to the United States to resume his studies.

In May 2018, Egyptian authorities detained Salem in apparent connection with his academic research regarding Egypt’s judiciary. His case was added to State Security Case 441/2018 and he was held in pretrial detention for roughly seven months (see report). SAR understands that he was charged alongside bloggers, journalists, and filmmakers with joining a terrorist organization and spreading false news to undermine national interests. The case never went to trial.

In May 2020, Salem attempted to fly to the United States to resume his studies, but authorities seized his passport and did not return it. They did not provide Salem a basis for denying him exit from the country. Salem acquired a new passport in October 2020.

In May 2021, Salem, through an intermediary, alerted Egypt’s state security officials of his plan to leave the country and again travel to the US to resume his studies. Egyptian authorities flagged his passport while he attempted to board his flight and informed him that a ban on his travel was reinstated one day earlier.

Salem reportedly intends to appeal the travel ban.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of a travel restriction to restrict or retaliate against the nonviolent exercise of academic freedom — 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 signatory. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from interfering with and retaliating against the peaceful exercise of academic freedom, freedom of expression, and other protected rights so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.


Corrections (December 10, 2021): Corrections were made to reflect that Salem was held in pre-trial detention for seven months, not six months; that he was charged alongside “bloggers, journalists, and filmmakers,” not “activists and journalists;” that the charge relating to “spreading false news” should have been reported as, “spreading false news to undermine national interests;” and that the criminal case never went to trial. Corrections were also made to more accurately reflect the circumstances of Salem’s travel restrictions, including that security authorities at the airport confiscated his passport and did not provide a basis for his denied exit in May 2020.