Anniversary of university independence casts doubt on academic freedom

The date 9 March marks the anniversary of the independence of Egypt’s universities, yet there still considerable debate to what extent is Egypt's academia independent from government control.
Seventy-five years ago Cairo University's first president, Lotfy al-Sayed, resigned in protest at a ministerial decision demanding the dismissal of Egypt's intellectual and dean of the Faculty of Arts, Taha Hussein, sending a message against governmental interference in the independent Cairo University.
In 1988, universities world-wide united to write up the Lima Declaration of Academic Freedom, all agreeing that academic freedom means the right of the academic community to fulfill all academic functions including research, publishing and teaching without discrimination, interference or censorship.
“University independence means to be independent from the national government and other authorities when addressing issues such as finances, internal organization, education and research policies, and administration,” the statement read.
Despite Egypt's ideal supposed independence from the state, several cases of government meddling have been documented in university academics for political reasons.
On 17 January 2015, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a presidential decree amending the law which regulates university issues number 45/1972 in order to include provisions to dismiss university professors who participate any political party activities in the university campus.
In a press statement, the Association for Freedom of Thoughts and Expression (AFTE) monitored at least four confirmed cases of academic freedom violations during this academic year 2014/2015.
AFTE expressed its concern on the tough restrictions faced by academic staff, the increasing threats, investigations and the disciplinary action taken against them, in addition to all of the interference in their work and their academic research carried out by the administration of the government universities and Al-Azhar University.
The organization documented several examples, highlighting the growing interference of the executive authority via th dismissal of university leaders and the amendment of legislation pertaining to the selection of both university leaders and the disciplinary system for faculty members.
On 28 February, Adel al-Badr, a professor of philosophy was referred to disciplinary after investigation on charges of inciting students to violence, state overthrow and insulting the regime. AFTE explained the incident was after a debate between Badr and another professor on 19 February, when he criticized the regime.
Mansoura University suspended Badr for six months and prevented him from entering the university only to attend the investigations. Moreover they cut 25 percent of his monthly salary.
On 22 January 2015, Madiha al-Sayeh, a professor at the Faculty Dar Al-Ulum at Cairo University was referred to investigation and suspended from work for three months, claiming that she was teaching a subject about Holy Quran Eloquence written from Sayyid Qutb, an Islamist writer and a former leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In another incident, on 28 December 2014 Al-Azhar University decided to amend the titles of scientific research of a group of masters and PhD researchers at Al-Azhar University. The university alleged that the titles violated the concept of a modern Al-Azhar and threatened the national unity, Tawfik Nour Aldin vice head of Al-Azhar University told AFTE.
The fourth case, was on 21 September 2014 when Al-Azhar university banned granting a PhD researcher Mohammed Ibrahim Abu Attia, Faculty of Islamic Dawa Al-Azhar, because he referred to the 30 June uprising as a “military coup”.
Moreover the discussion committee members were referred to investigation.
AFTE also shed light on cases that violated the independence of the universities. On 26 January 2015, Zagazing university fired Hamid Attia, the vice president, due to exposure to criminal prosecution and being in custody since June 2011.
In the second case, President of Alexandria University Osama Ibrahim resigned in October because he refused a visit by the governor of Alexandria and the Minister of Youth and Sports to the Faculty of Commerce and inspecting its stadiums, without informing the president of the university.
Previously, Ibrahim has suffered heavy pressure, when the media launched a campaign arguing his resignation, claiming he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and he was banned from traveling to attend a scientific conference in Qatar on 6 December 2014, which led him to submit his resignation from the Freedom and Justice Party.

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