The University of Edinburgh announced that it has asked all students sent on scholarships with the American University in Cairo, to return to London and not to complete their studies. This came following complaints by students concerning the arrests carried out by the Egyptian authorities against them, within the framework of the security campaign issued against Egyptian youth.
The university has confirmed that nine students have returned to Scotland so far, following the arrests of two students (a married couple) by the Egyptian authorities during the recent protests, as well as subsequent arbitrary arrests of those walking in the streets.
Details of the arrests
The university has confirmed that the Egyptian security has arrested two exchange program students without confirming the reasons, in addition to detaining, questioning and releasing them afterward. Following this incident, the university has asked all of its students to leave Egypt.
The university has reported that multiple arrests have been carried out against exchange program students in Egypt, the last of which were two students from the University of Edinburgh, who was in Egypt for a one-year scholarship program. The students abandoned their studies and returned home, as part of the safety measures undertaken by the Scottish university.
The University of Edinburgh expressed “deep concerns” regarding this issue, adding that it had a number of exchange programs with other universities around the world, including the American University in Cairo, which hosts visiting Islamic and Middle Eastern students and has decided to terminate the exchange with Egypt.
A spokesman for the University of Edinburgh told the Edinburgh newspaper “two of our students were arrested in Egypt recently, and later released by the Egyptian authorities in Cairo,” adding “it is clear that the university is very concerned about incidents like this, especially when it comes to the safety of our students.”
He continued “we have a responsibility to act in the best interests of our students and take decisive action when there are safety and welfare concerns. So, we have asked all our students in Egypt to return to the UK, and make arrangements with other countries to receive them.”
Student website, The Edinburgh Tab, reported that students participating in exchange programs in Egypt have returned safely to the UK, or that they are “on the way out,” adding that the reasons for the arrests were not confirmed. However, the website highlighted that the arrested students were questioned by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry and the security authorities.
While commenting on the incident, the British press shed light on the arrests of around 3,000 young Egyptians by the authorities, in the wake of the sudden protests against the regime of the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, as well as the subsequent crackdowns on activists.
Reactions in Egypt
There was no response from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, nor the Interior Ministry, to these reports.
The Egyptian actor and oppositionist, Mohamed Ali, regretted the detention of foreign students in Egypt, as part of the arbitrary arrests carried out by the Egyptian authorities.
Activists mocked the arrest of foreign students in Egypt, as well as the government’s claims of seeking to stimulate tourism and student exchange, considering that what has happened was the best way to inform the world of the repressive campaign in Egypt.
The history of repressing academic freedom in Egypt
Since 3 July 2013, the Egyptian authorities have suppressed all student and academic activities, including the killing and arrest of students and professors, storming universities, dismissing private professors belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, and dissidents in general, and restricting graduate studies.
The arrests were not limited to Egyptian students, but also to foreign students, including the murdered Italian student and researcher, Giulio Regeni, and other American and Scottish students.
Walid Al-Shobaki, a researcher at the University of Washington, was also arrested and forcibly disappeared by the Egyptian security services in May 2018, after interviewing lawyers and judges. He was held along with 13 other journalists and academics, on charges of spreading false news and joining a terrorist group. He was released in December 2018, following interventions made by the US authorities.
This prompted the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), which oversees the travel of foreign students to Egypt and the Middle East to study and research, in April 2019 to warn any foreign student from travelling to Egypt, stressing that the Egyptian security services are the source of danger to the lives and safety of academics.
The reported stated “we still believe that there are serious concerns about the safety of academic researchers in Egypt. Our concern is that non-Egyptians join their fellow students and researchers in Egypt, and those whom we may seek to collaborate with, or participate in our research, get harmed.”
A previous report by The Monitor confirmed that scientific research in Egypt has become a “taboo area”, where many researchers are being prevented from conducting certain research work on national security grounds, as well as “politicisation of academic institutions and lack of academic integrity.”
The report, entitled Scientific Research Is Forbidden, told the story of an Egyptian researcher who wanted to study sewage systems, but was asked for security clearance. Months later, his request was rejected for “reasons affecting national security.”
The Monitor highlighted the seriousness of the situation, regarding researchers in Egypt who came under international scrutiny after the murder of Regeni, who was followed by security agents before his disappearance on 25 January, and the emergence of his body days later, showing signs of torture.
When the Egyptian ambassador to Britain asked Liverpool University in 2017 to set up a campus in Egypt, the university rejected the offer, as the university’s administration board did not want to damage the institution’s reputation, due to Egypt’s poor human rights record.
This was preceded by a publication by the American University Journal in December 2016, entitled Informants at the American University, confirming security interventions, whether in student activities or in the field of academic and student freedoms, in a special issue of the AUC Times magazine.
A 2017 quarterly report by the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) cited limitations on academic freedom and the significant pressures exerted by university and college departments putting on the faculty staff’s freedom of teaching, research and expression.
Among these restrictions is the issuance of a presidential decree, in 2016, requiring faculty members to apply for permission from the intelligence services in order to participate in lectures abroad or host foreign personalities in Egypt.