The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) has followed the efforts of Mohamed Hassan Soliman, Lecturer at Ain Shams University, to obtain the University approval to his travel to the University of Denver, USA, in a Fulbright scholarship. Although Soliman has submitted all requested papers and meets all the legal requirements, he did not receive approval from the Acting University President who required a “security approval” in advance, before offering the university approval. This incidence comes in a series of illegal acts in which universities oblige faculty members to submit applications to the security apparatus and get their approval before traveling for academic purposes.
The incidence dates back to November 2015 when Mohamed Hassan Soliman, Lecturer at the Faculty of Engineering, Ain Shams University, applied to the Fulbright Junior Faculty Development Program and succeeded in all its qualifying tests. On 10 March 2016, the Fulbright Commission informed Ain Shams University with Soliman’s selection to participate in the Program from 6 July to 14 September 2016 in the USA, and added in its letter to the University that the Commission “understands the importance of the University’s approval before participating in any scholarship or exchange program”.
Article 87 of Law number 49 for the year 1972 on universities’ regulation states: “Faculty members may be sent on temporary missions outside the university pursuant to the decision of the University President, based on the suggestion of the faculty or institute board after soliciting the opinion of the department board…”. Soliman has submitted a leave request to the Electrical Power and Machines Engineering Department to attend the Program. The Department approved on 30 March 2016, followed by the Faculty of Engineering Board approval of a paid leave on 11 April 2016.
Meanwhile, Dr. Soliman attended the Program’s Preparatory Meetings, submitted the Faculty’s approval to the Fulbright Commission and was granted the US Visa, in addition to a preliminary approval from the Acting University President with the condition that “no travel procedures are to be taken except after receiving the security approval”. Thus, the Faculty of Engineering shall be informed with the final decision of the Acting University President “once the security approval is received”. Until the departure date on 6 July 2016, the security approval was not received, Ain Shams University did not issue Soliman’s travel approval and thus the Fulbright Commission canceled his grant.
The universities regulation law does not include any text that obliges faculty members to receive “security approval” prior to travel. This security approval condition is considered a violation of academic freedom, including the freedom to research, teach and publish according to academic frameworks without any interference or restrictions. The decision of Ain Shams University led to preventing Soliman from research and scientific training at the University of Denver, and contradicted with the Egyptian Constitution. Article 22 states: “Teachers, faculty members, and their assistants are the basic pillar of education. The state shall guarantee the development of their scientific capacities and professional skills, and protect their material and moral rights…” Article 23 states: “The state shall guarantee the freedom of scientific research…”.
In his testimony to AFTE Soliman says: “This led to losing a great chance to attend the biggest Electrical Power conference in North America, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) General Meeting, and visiting the biggest renewable energy laboratory in the US, the city of Denver, something I would never be able to organize with my own capacity”.
AFTE has previously offered legal assistance to two Cairo University faculty members who have been exposed to security approval procedures before their departure. AFTE has filed suit number 64608/ 69JY before the Administrative Court in Cairo on 4 July 2015 in the name of Nabil Labib Youssef, Professor at the Faculty of Science, against the negative decision of refusing to allow him to travel to Hungary to supervise a PhD dissertation because of the security approval condition. The second suit was filed before the Administrative Court number 3163/63JY on 4 February 2016 delegated by Kholoud Saber, Assistant Lecturer at the Faculty of Arts, contesting the order to revoke her educational leave because of the non-approval of the security apparatus.
AFTE stresses the importance of the Egyptian government’s commitment to the UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel of 1997, which under Article 19 requires UNESCO member states to protect institutions of higher learning from threats to their independence, regardless of the source. Article 13 states: “higher-education teaching personnel should be enabled throughout their careers to participate in international gatherings on higher education or research, to travel abroad without political restrictions…”.