On the prevention of foreign academics and researchers from entering Egypt
Feb 15, Cairo: This January, Egyptian authorities prevented the academics Atef Botros and Amel Grami from entering Egypt on the basis that they “represented a danger to national security”, according to security sources at Cairo Airport. This raises a number of questions concerning freedom of movement and the right of individuals with non-Egyptian citizenship, but who are of Egyptian origin, to enter Egypt as well as more broadly about the environment of freedom of expression in Egypt and the attitude of the Egyptian authorities towards the opinions of non-Egyptian academics and researchers.
This article discusses the most notable cases in which non-Egyptian researchers and academics have been prevented from entering Egypt and aims to shed light on their common features and clarify how they violate international agreements. It also presents AFTE's recommendations to the Egyptian government regarding the steps necessary to create an environment that promotes freedom of expression in Egypt guaranteeing the participation of specialist academics and researchers and the exchange of ideas and knowledge which is in turn beneficial to Egypt.
Banned from entry: Five cases
Atef Botros al-Attar
Atef Botros al-Attar, an Egyptian academic with German citizenship, was subjected to detention in Cairo Airport upon his arrival in Egypt on 29 January 2016. Representatives of state security informed officials at the German embassy that al-Attar had been given a lifetime ban from entering Egypt and he was deported to Germany the following morning.
The Egyptian newspaper al-Masry al-Yaum cited a Cairo Airport security source saying that “Cairo Airport is an executive body. It is not possible to ban anyone from entering the country without a court order or a request from the security forces or judiciary. National security forces issued a command banning Dr Atef Botros al-Attar from entering the country”.
During a phone conversation with AFTE, al-Attar said that he was detained in Cairo airport for over 24 hours and that he was interrogated by the national security service. He was stopped and required to purchase a visa for the first time in his life before being given an entry stamp. He was then interrogated for 7 hours and put under psychological pressure to give the names of some of his friends and relatives as well as details about their activities in the Germany-based Mayadin al-Tahrir Association, of which he is a founder. After they had obtained the information they wanted, security forces informed him that he was prohibited from entering Egypt and began to discuss returning him to Germany.
At that point al-Attar revealed that he had previously been unlawfully detained in Alexandria in March 2015 for 10 hours and interrogated in a secret building belonging to one of the security organs as well as subsequently in Bab Sharq police station with the intention of keeping him away from the opposition.
Al-Attar is known to split his time between Egypt and Germany in terms of both his academic work at the University of Marburg as well as his involvement in establishing the Mayadin al-Tahrir Association which organises cultural events for Egyptians in Germany. He is also known for his opposition to the human rights violations that continue to take place in Egypt.
The Egyptian authorities prevented the Tunisian academic Amel Grami from entering Egypt on 3 January 2015, after detaining her in Cairo Airport for 16 hours and questioning her about the reasons for her visit to the country. She was deported to Tunisia on the morning of the following day, 4 January 2015, from Cairo Airport after airport security forces informed her that the reason for her being barred from entering Egypt was that she “posed a threat to national security and would not be permitted to enter the country again”, according to statements made by Grami in a television interview.
Grami, an academic at Manouba university in Tunisia, had been invited by the Alexandria Library to participate in a conference on the topic of extremism and terrorism. Attempts were made by a representative from the library as well as by the Tunisian Foreign Ministry and embassy in Cairo to convince the security forces to allow Grami to enter Egypt, however they insisted on her deportation to Tunisia after she had been detained in the airport and questioned about the reasons for her visit to Egypt and the title of the talk that she was going to give at the conference.
In the wake of this incident the Tunisian Writers Union described Qurami's detention and prevention from entering Egypt as an “indignity”, denouncing the attitude of the Egyptian state towards Arab writers and thinkers. Grami is one of the most prominent writers for the Egyptian newspaper Shorouk, for which she has written articles covering political and social issues in Tunisia since the end of 2012.
The American researcher Michelle Dunne was prevented from entering Egypt and deported to the country from which she had travelled, Germany, on 13 December 2014. Security forces at Cairo Airport informed Dunne that she was “banned from entering Egypt”, according to statements she made in a television interview. Dunne, a researcher at the Carnegie Centre for World Peace, had been invited by the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs to attend a conference organised by the council on Egypt's relationship with the world in the light of political developments in the Arab world.
The front page of al-Ahram newspaper cited a source in the security forces stating that Dunne was on a “list of people banned from entering Egypt produced by the Agency for National Security”. The vice-president of the council for the administration for the Egyptian Council of Foreign Affairs, Muhammed Ibrahim Shakir, attributed the ban on Dunne entering Egypt to a decision by the security agencies that assess the risk of this type of situation.
Dunne presented criticism and her thoughts on the performance of the current Egyptian regime in her writing with regard to a number of areas such as counter-terrorism, human rights and political reform.
Kenneth Roth and Sarah Leah Whitson
Cairo Airport security prevented the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, and the executive director for the Middle East and North Africa, Sarah Leah Whitson, from entering Egypt on 10 August 2014 after detaining them in Cairo Airport for 12 hours. Egyptian newspaper Mada Masr cited a source saying that Roth and Whitson were “subjected to interrogation lasting several hours at Cairo Airport before being deported”.
They had come to Cairo in order to present a report produced by the organisation on “mass killings in Egypt in July and August 2013” and to discuss the report with a group of diplomats and journalists in Cairo.
This was the first time that the Egyptian authorities had prevented representatives of Human Rights Watch from entering Egypt, including during the rule of former president Hosni Mubarak.
The Egyptian security forces are banning researchers and academics from entering Egypt with the goal of influencing the climate of freedom of expression and to send a message to those with other nationalities that they must ensure that they do not express opinions that differ from those of the Egyptian regime when outside Egypt. If they fail to do this, they will be prevented from entering Egypt, communicating with Egyptian society and expressing opinions which advocate for human rights and political reform. This represents a great danger to Egyptians abroad who hold other nationalities but who wish to visit their country and relatives from time to time. These arbitrary restrictions will have an impact on the interest and participation of Egyptians abroad in the issues and affairs of their country.
Foreigners, when resident in any state, enjoy the right to thought, sentiment and religion, and the right to express their opinions, according to general comment 15 on the position of aliens according to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Egyptian authorities intend, by means of preventing researchers and academics from entering the country, to restrict this right and impose limits on freedom of expression.
The Oslo Times/IFEX