MESA Board Issues Revised Security Alert for Study and Research in Egypt, February 2019

In view of the current political and security climate in Egypt, the MESA Board feels compelled to revise its alert about the nature of threats to those considering traveling to Egypt for research and study—as well as those who are based in-country. Many of these threats come from official bodies whose task would seem to be to work to provide a safe environment for study and research.

For several years, MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) has been documenting the alarming number and scope of attacks on freedom of expression and academic freedom in Egypt. CAF has repeatedly written to express its concern regarding violations that include, but are not limited to:

  • the denial of entry to the country and harassment of numerous scholars and researchers;
  • gross state interference in university student and faculty governance; 
  • the dismissals and expulsions from universities of hundreds of students and faculty;
  • the sentencing of academics to death

The growth of violence and repression against academics and associated researchers in Egypt reached its tragically predictable outcome with the murder of University of Cambridge Ph.D. student Giulio Regeni. On February 3, 2016, Regeni, in Egypt to conduct doctoral research while affiliated with the American University in Cairo, was found dead by the side of the road to the west of the capital. While it is now widely understood that Egyptian state security was involved in Regeni’s abduction and murder, and Egyptian authorities continue to maintain that they will bring the perpetrators to justice, to date no one has been charged or arrested.

As the elected representatives of MESA, the preeminent association of scholars of the region, we express our solidarity with and affirm our commitment to collaborate with scholars and students at Egyptian institutions. As advisors and mentors to graduate and other students, however, we feel it is incumbent upon us to express our continuing concerns about conditions for research in Egypt.

We continue to believe there is reason for serious concern regarding the safety of academic researchers in Egypt. Our concern is for both non-Egyptians going to Egypt and Egyptian colleagues; for Egyptian and non-Egyptian students; and for those whom we may seek to collaborate with or involve in our research. Although no one is in a position to guarantee this, experienced scholars and researchers with extensive knowledge of the country and fluency in Arabic may be able to maneuver safely in the current environment. Others should reflect very carefully and exercise extreme caution in considering research or study-related travel to Egypt for themselves and their students. At particular risk, we feel, are scholars and graduate students working on modern politics and history. Both post- and pre-PhD scholars of any topic or chronological period should also take very seriously the possibility that even if they are personally secure, their Egyptian colleagues and friends are generally subject to higher levels of scrutiny and risk from the security officials.

At the same time, we stress MESA’s continuing commitment through CAF to investigate academic freedom violations in Egypt, to work vigorously to draw attention to these violations, to write letters of protest about these violations to the relevant Egyptian authorities, and in all ways possible and appropriate to support our Egyptian colleagues who are on the front lines in the ongoing battle to defend this basic right.

The MESA Board joins others in demanding a full, honest, and transparent investigation into the circumstances of Giulio Regeni’s death; strongly supports the work of CAF in defense of other scholars, Egyptian and others, who are or have been targeted by the state for their academic work; and resolves to remain apprised of the academic environment in Egypt and to update its members about significant developments in that regard.

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