What does the arrest of Patrick George Zaky tell us about the state of academic freedom?, by Saipira Furstenberg, il manifesto, global edition, 20/02/2020
[The arrest of our colleagues Fariba and Roland in a global reflection…]
Nearly four years after the brutal murder of Giulio Regeni, a doctoral student conducting fieldwork in Cairo, the Egyptian authorities continue to repress intellectual life for both students, academics and activists.
The arrest and torture of the Egyptian graduate student and activists Patrick George Zaky, enrolled at the University of Bologna, reflect further erosion of academic freedom in Egypt. In recent years, the Egyptian government has taken unprecedented measures of censorship, surveillance, and repression against activists and academics. For example, “between 2013 and 2016, over 1100 students were arrested, 1000 were expelled or subjected to disciplinary actions, 65 were tried by military courts, and 21 students were extrajudicially killed”. According to the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), there is a surge in legal pressures on the university space, including arrests, violence, travel bans as well as disciplinary actions targeting members of the higher education community.
Egypt is not the only case in the world exhibiting deteriorating signs of academic freedom, other authoritarian states are following similar steps to purge their academic community and any form of dissent deemed to represent a threat to the regime. Following the failed coup against Erdogan in 2016, mass repression against the academic community has been carried out in Turkey, using dubious allegations of links to terrorism or associations to Fethullah Gülen movement.