Human Rights Watch makes the following key recommendations to promote and protect academic freedom in Egypt. Chapters five through seven contain more detailed recommendations at the end of each section.
1. The Egyptian government should cease using state security forces to intimidate and physically abuse professors and students.
State security forces have created a climate of fear on university campuses. They observe selected classes to keep discussions from crossing red lines and sometimes beat students seeking to express themselves by means of posters or speeches. Police detain, physically abuse, and in at least one case allegedly have tortured candidates for student union elections. They also sometimes respond with excessive force to peaceful demonstrations. Professors and especially students described the police presence as one of the major obstacles to academic freedom in higher education. The government should forbid security forces from playing any role on campus other than the strictly limited one of protecting public order.
2. State-appointed deans should cease interfering in academic freedom.
Since 1994, public university deans have been appointed by rectors, who are in turn appointed by the state. As implemented, this process gives the state too much control over internal university matters and favors for deanships professors who support the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). Such deans frequently interfere with academics freedom of opinion and expression. Professors and students told Human Rights Watch of cases in which deans monitored classroom discussions, cut off exchanges on controversial subjects, denied politically active professors contact with students, and blocked leftist and Islamist students from running for student government. Human Rights Watch was told that, in many cases, deans also closely scrutinize student activities, including student clubs and other forms of association on campus, and stifle expression that threatens to cross red lines. Deans must resist political pressures and act according to academic rather than political or other criteria.
3. Egyptian legislators should amend or abolish several laws that interfere with academic freedom.
Besides government security forces and state-appointed deans, Egyptian laws violate the principles of academic freedom. Law No. 20/1936, which allows censorship of all imported course books, should be abolished. Presidential Decree No. 2915/1964 establishes permit requirements for social science research that effectively block research on controversial topics and should be amended. The University Law of 1979 gives state-appointed deans unwarranted power over student activities and should be amended to allow the formation of political and religious clubs and to remove the good conduct requirement for student union nominees. Finally, the Emergency Law has been used to authorize arbitrary detention and unfair trials that intimidate and punish academics who cross red lines. It should be repealed.
4. Egyptian authorities should ensure that academic freedom is protected from threats and acts of intimidation by Islamist militants.
International law holds states responsible for the actions of their citizens and residents as well as themselves, and in this case, Egypt is responsible for protecting its academics from abuse by Islamist militants. The government should end its own violations, such as a censorship regime, that provide poor role models to private actors. State representatives should also oppose threats from individuals and groups on campus and in the press and protect academics rights to teach and research subjects of their choosing.
5. Private individuals, groups, and associations in Egypt should actively resist Islamist militants attempts to restrict academic freedom.
Islamist militants have used physical, legal, and media attacks to stifle Egyptian intellectuals. In particular, they intimidate professors and students so that they are afraid to assign course books or research topics dealing with religion or sex. Egyptians who oppose such activitiesincluding members of the mediashould speak out publicly against them.
6. The international community should recognize the systemic problems in higher education in Egypt and use its leverage to combat them.
Members of the international community, including the United States and World Bank, have promised or been asked to fund education in Egypt. Such funding may enhance resources, technology, and facilities, but the system of higher education will not flourish without the elimination of pervasive restrictions on academic freedom. Donors should use their diplomatic and financial leverage to push for such change. The UNDP should also continue to monitor education in the Arab world and call attention to violations of academic freedom.