Cairo International Airport

AFTE: Banning researchers from entering Egypt threatens academic freedoms

A study carried out by the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) suggests the banning of foreign researchers from entering Egypt is largely based on their anti-government stances.  

AFTE’s study, “Entry banned: On banning entry of foreign researchers and academics to Egypt,” highlights a number of situations in which researchers have been prevented from entering the country due to their political views, including the case of Egyptian-German researcher Atef Botros, who was banned from entering Egypt on January 30.

Botros, an assistant professor at Philipp University of Marburg in Germany, was interrogated for hours without water, his brother Sherif told Mada Masr previously. He was detained in relation to his founding of the non-governmental organization Mayadin al-Tahrir, a German-Egyptian NGO founded after the 2011 revolution. The NGO has been targeted by security due to its anti-government position, Sherif asserted.

Botros told AFTE that he was interrogated by national security for 24 hours at the airport, where he was forced to buy an entry visa to Egypt, despite being Egyptian. He also clarified that he was subjected to “psychological pressure” to give information about Mayadin al-Tahrir, as well as on his friends and relatives.

Earlier in January, prominent Tunisian writer and academic Amel Grami was deported from Cairo Airport, despite being officially invited to speak at a conference at the state-owned Alexandria library. After her deportation, Grami wrote that she had been detained at Cairo Airport for more than 14 hours, and was subsequently flown out of the country for being “a threat to national security.”

Researcher and former diplomat Michele Dunne was denied entry to Egypt in December. The Foreign Ministry said she didn’t have an adequate visa, despite standard protocol permitting American nationals to purchase entry visas on arrival at the airport. Dunne was invited to a conference organized by the Egyptian Council on Foreign Affairs. She told Mada Masr at the time that she was surprised at the ease with which anyone opposing the current government can be banned from the country, particularly as she visits Egypt regularly and has never committed any violations in the past. Dunne explained that security forces at the airport informed her of the ban as she was finalizing procedures for entry, without giving any clear reasons for the decision, which she said is “arbitrary.”

In August 2014, officials at Human Rights Watch (HRW), Kenneth Roth and Sarah Leah Whitson, were both denied entry to Egypt for a trip aimed at releasing the findings of HRW’s report on the violent dispersal of the Rabea al-Adaweya and Nahda square sit-ins. The report was critical of Egyptian authorities for their use of “excessive force” against protesters. "It's official, shortest visit to Cairo ever, 12 hours before deportation for ‘security reasons’ — the new Egypt is certainly ‘transitioning’," Whitson wrote on her Twitter account. "Stand by for the inside story regarding why the new Egypt can't tolerate HRW assessment," she added.

In October 2014, the Danish-Egyptian project manager at the Danish Institute for Human Rights, Ashraf Mikhail, was denied entry at Cairo airport. The state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper reported that Mikhail, who arrived in Cairo on a flight from Amsterdam, was banned because of his involvement in "suspicious" training sessions for Egyptian young people.

AFTE highlighted similarities across all of these cases, notably the detention, interrogation and “psychologically pressure” exerted by authorities, who often only inform researchers they have been denied entry after hours of detention and interrogation.

“It is obvious that researchers are banned after an evaluation of their stances and opinions, with the intention to restrict freedom of expression,” AFTE’s study asserts,

All of the banned researchers should have been given the opportunity to acquire a visa upon arrival at the airport, and many were coming to Egypt based on invitations from Egyptian institutions, AFTE noted, adding that in all cases, authorities were aware of the political stances of researchers before their arrival, with many being included on “security lists” or previously flagged for their work.

“Egyptian authorities ban academics and researchers from entering Egypt with the intention to affect the atmosphere of freedom of expression. It is a message to those who carry another nationality that they are obliged to express views in line with the directions of the Egyptian regime in their foreign countries, or they will not be able to enter the country and communicate with the Egyptian public,” AFTE claims.

The rights group asserts this is a “dangerous” precedent, as such “arbitrary” measures prevent researchers with dual nationalities from visiting their families and “will affect the participation of Egyptians abroad in issues related to their country.”

AFTE urged the Egyptian government to declare the legal reasons for banning researchers and academics from entering Egypt and define what is meant by “threats to national security.” The Egyptian government should, according to AFTE, commit to the legal standards of issuing visas to foreign researchers.