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: July 11, 2021

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

Region & Country:Northern Africa | Egypt

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On July 11, 2021, Alia Mosallam, a postdoctoral fellow at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, was detained at an airport in Cairo and released the next day.

Mosallam, who has taught at the American University in Cairo and Freie Universität in Berlin, specializes in popular resistance movements throughout history and, specifically, how their stories are told through song. According to Mosallam’s profile on 60 pages, a Berlin-based platform to share written work, she has participated in popular socio-economic movements, including “marching in squares of dissent,” and advocating for minors in military prisons.

Mosallam, an Egyptian citizen, was traveling with her husband and three children from Berlin when she was detained by Egyptian authorities. Mosallam’s husband, Yahia Shawkat, told Mada Masr that at 1:00 AM local time, airport authorities detained Mosallam and confiscated her phone, and that she was interrogated by National Security Agency officials. Mosallam was released after being held incommunicado for 17 hours. At 7:00 PM local time, Mosallam informed her husband that she had been transferred to a State Security Prosecution office.

On July 12, Mosallam was released on bail pending further investigation, preventing her from traveling out of the country. As of October 15, 2021, the investigation is ongoing.

Since 2016, a growing number of graduate students have been targeted by Egyptian state authorities. In January 2016, Italian PhD candidate Giulio Regeni was disappeared and later found murdered while conducting research on labor-related issues (see report). In March 2018, University of Washington PhD candidate Walid Salim was detained in connection with his research on the judiciary (see report). In February 2020, authorities detained Patrick George Zaki, a University of Bologna master’s student and a human rights researcher (see report). Most recently, in February 2021, authorities detained Central European University master’s student Ahmed Samir Santawy (see report) and sentenced him to four years in prison.

Scholars at Risk is concerned by the incommunicado detention and interrogation of an academic fellow, apparently in connection with the nonviolent exercise of the rights to academic freedom and freedom of expression — conduct that 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 authorities have an obligation to refrain from retaliating against the nonviolent exercise of the right to academic freedom and freedom of expression. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, the incommunicado detention of a scholar in apparent connection with their academic or expressive activities undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.