This report is based on a testimony from Manar al-Tantawy as well as official papers and documents obtained from her and the Legal Aid Unit of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) in its capacity as Tantawy’s legal agent.
Since 2014, academic freedom in Egypt has been subjected to an extensive and systematic wave of violations committed by various state agencies. Among these violations is the targeting of academics through administrative investigations, disciplinary procedures, and penalties that may reach dismissal. Over the past years, universities have undertaken roles of oversight over the personal lives of professors. Universities do not only undertake monitoring inside their campuses and impose censorship on the scientific research carried out by professors and the topics discussed in lecture halls, but also go beyond to include significant cases like that of Dr. Manar al-Tantawy, who has been exposed to an endless series of administrative violations just for being the wife of a former political prisoner. The violations committed against Tantawy by both the Higher Technological Institute’s branch in the 6th of October City and the Ministry of Higher Education included a number of investigations, disciplinary procedures, penalties, preventing her from obtaining a professorship degree despite fulfilling all the necessary requirements, and obstructing her return to the position of head of the mechanical engineering department at the institute, which we will clarify in this report.
Manar Abdel Hakim al-Tantawy is an assistant professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the 10th of Ramadan Higher Technological Institute’s 6th of October branch.
She has been exposed to a number of violations by the institute’s administration and the Ministry of Higher Education. These included depriving her of obtaining a professorship degree despite fulfilling the requirements. Also, the institute’s administration prevented her from returning to the position of head of the mechanical engineering department.
Tantawy was evaluated by a committee affiliated to the Supreme Council of Universities in December 2019. The council granted her a professorship degree in February 2020 pending the approval of the Ministry of Higher Education and the institute, but both delayed and obfuscated the approval without giving reasons.
Tantawy demanded that she reassume the position of head of the mechanical engineering department, which she had previously assumed and apologized for in 2016 for health reasons. She is the most senior professor in the department. According to Article 56 of the Universities Regulation Law, “the head of the department shall be selected from among the three most senior professors in the department, and the appointment shall be made upon a decision taken by the university president after consulting the dean of the college or the institute”. The dean ignored Tantawy’s request. She was informed that her request was ignored due to the lack of security approval, as she is the wife of a political prisoner, in reference to journalist and political writer Hisham Gaafar, who spent three and a half years in pretrial detention over his journalistic work, before his release in 2019 in connection with Case No. 720 of 2015 (State Security).
In March 2021, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI – a human rights organization) sent a request to the institute and the Ministry of Higher Education on behalf of Tantawy, demanding that her academic degree be approved and she be appointed as a professor. ANHRI published a statement on its website and Facebook page to that effect. The statement was widely shared on social media and various satellite channels, including Al-Jazeera, Mekameleen and Al-Sharq. At the same time, Tantawy’s husband, Hisham Gaafar, said on his Facebook page that she was deprived of the position, noting that the institute’s president did not like to let her assume the post. Gaafar’s post received great interaction on Facebook.
The spread of Tantawy’s case on social media and satellite channels was a watershed. The institute faced this demand with more arbitrariness, as it referred Tantawy to investigation on a false charge of insulting the institute and its president through the mainstream and social media. Tantawy did not appear on any media outlet, nor did she offend the president of the institute or any other of its members. An endless series of investigations and disciplinary hearings followed.
These violations initially aimed to prevent Tantawy from obtaining a professorship degree and the consequent material and moral rights, and also prevent her from assuming the post of head of the department. Tantawy continued to claim her academic degree. She lodged an appeal before the Supreme Administrative Court against the Ministry of Higher Education and the institute for not approving the academic degree. Given that intransigence, the institute’s violations continued, aiming to create further obstacles that would impede Tantawy’s return to her position.
Violations faced by Tantawy
Tantawy was subjected to four investigations and three disciplinary procedures:
The investigations began on 29 June 2021, when the institute referred Tantawy to investigation without giving reasons. Tantawy did not attend the investigation. On 6 July, she was summoned for investigation again. She attended that time with her lawyer. The investigation was marred by many irregularities, which led Tantawy and her lawyer to withdraw from the investigation session. The irregularities began with handing over Tantawy – in an unofficial manner – two letters signed by the director of the institute’s legal affairs department asking her to attend an investigation session. However, the letters did not mention the party that filed a complaint against her, nor did they mention any charges or incidents to be investigated.
During the investigation, the investigator refused to show Tantawy or her lawyer a copy of the investigation papers and the referral decision, and refused to prove any requests submitted by the lawyer, thus prompting Tantawy and the lawyer to withdraw. The investigator refused to prove this in the investigation and submitted a report, carrying No. 549 of 2021, to the police station.
First disciplinary procedure:
Despite Tantawy’s withdrawal, the investigator proved all the charges against her. On 21 August 2021, the institute’s board of directors decided to refer Tantawy to a disciplinary hearing slated for 21 December of the same year, based on a report from the investigator accusing her of insulting the institute and its president on social media and some anti-government TV channels.
The decision to refer Tantawy to a disciplinary hearing might have come as a response from the institute to the appeal that Tantawy filed against the ministry and the institute before the Supreme Administrative Court. On 1 August, AFTE filed the appeal No. 61520 of 75 on behalf of Tantawy against both the minister of higher education and the institute’s dean, appealing their negative decision not to grant her a professorship degree, despite fulfilling all the technical and procedural conditions.
The disciplinary hearing was postponed several times on 2 February 2022, 29 March 2022, 5 April 2022, 10 May 2022, 31 May 2022, and 7 June 2022. But it was finally held on 26 July 2022, and it was decided to deduct 15 days from Tantawy’s salary, in the disciplinary Case No. 18 of 2021.
On 31 May 2022, the State Commissioners Authority issued its legal opinion report regarding the appeal, stating that the appeal should be accepted in form, to rescind the negative decision not to grant Tantawy a professorship degree and that the institute’s administration shall be obliged to pay the administrative expenses.
The State Commissioners Authority stated in its report that a specialized committee affiliated to the Supreme Council of Universities recommended the promotion of Tantawy to a professor. Following that, the secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Universities sent a letter to the institute’s dean stating that Tantawy had been granted the academic degree. However, the General Administration of Institutes stated in a letter that Tantawy’s promotion was not approved, giving no reasons, although Tantawy had fulfilled all the requirements stipulated in law. According to the State Commissioners Authority’s report, this was an abuse of power, and therefore the decision was worth rescinding.
The institute’s violations against Tantawy continued after the lawsuit was accepted. On 19 July 2022, Tantawy filed a complaint against a colleague for insulting her before the acting head of the department. She was not informed of any action taken, despite submitting a request to the legal affairs department to know the developments of the complaint. Instead of investigating the colleague in order to rehabilitate Tantawy, the institute referred Tantawy to investigation on 11 November, based on a complaint submitted by the branch’s supervisor, the acting head of the department, and the colleague against whom Tantawy filed the complaint. Tantawy was accused of insulting a colleague. Some witnesses who testified to the incident were ignored. After the investigation was completed, no action was taken until 25 February 2023.
Second disciplinary procedure:
The institute’s dean issued an executive decision referring Tantawy to a disciplinary hearing on charges of insulting a colleague. The disciplinary board decided on 23 May to punish Tantawy by deducting five days from her salary, although she was not officially notified and did not attend any disciplinary hearing.
On 30 August, the Administrative Judiciary Court (Circuit 17) accepted Appeal No. 61520 of 75 filed on behalf of Tantawy against both the minister of higher education and the institute’s president. The court also decided to annul the negative decision not to grant Tantawy the professorship degree. In response, the malicious investigations continued.
On 28 January 2023, Tantawy was informed of her referral to investigation based on a complaint submitted by the acting head of the department accusing her of doubting his legal status after his position as an acting head of the department was extended. A report stating the violations committed by the acting head of the department and the branch’s supervisor was submitted and proven in the investigation. On 25 February, Tantawy was transferred to a third disciplinary hearing, but she was not officially notified. To date, the hearing has not been held.
On 12 April 2023, the institute escalated its violations against Tantawy by referring her to investigation on charges of impersonating the head of the department and approving leave requests for employees in the department. This came after the head of the mechanical engineering department filed a complaint against Tantawy. According to the investigation report No. 20 of 2023, Tantawy was accused of approving leave requests for the laboratory’s secretary. The head of the department attached the last three approvals granted to the laboratory secretary to his complaint.
According to the investigation, the laboratory’s secretary, Khaled Qutb Abdel Razek, stated that he – according to the sequence of the leave requesting process at the institute – used to submit leave requests to Tantawy in her capacity as the laboratory’s supervisor, and after she approves the request he goes to the Administrative Affairs Department to place the leave balance on the application, then the Administrative Affairs Department sends it to the head of the department, Dr. Said, via mail for approval. Abdel Razek noted that it was not the first time that he has requested leave this way, and Dr. Said approved the last three leave requests in this sequence, despite the fact that the latter filed a complaint against Tantawy for signing those applications.
Third disciplinary procedure:
The investigation committee decided to transfer Tantawy to a disciplinary hearing on 11 July 2023, but the hearing was postponed to 25 July, then to 7 August, and then to 15 August. According to Article 69 of the Labor Law, “the employee may not be dismissed unless he commits a serious mistake, and the following cases are considered to be a serious mistake: If it is proven that the employee impersonated a false person or submitted forged documents…”. Thus, the institute’s administration aims to transfer Tantawy to a disciplinary hearing in order to dismiss her instead of ensuring her rights and promoting her to the degree of professor.
The institute’s administration still refuses to grant Tantawy the academic degree, although the Ministry of Higher Education asked the institute in May 2023 to provide Tantawy’s documents and papers in order to implement the Supreme Administrative Court’s decision and certify the degree of professorship for her. However, the institute is still reluctant to send the papers to the ministry.
The violations committed against Tantawy reflect a systematic approach by the institute’s administration to punish any professor who claims rights that the security authorities do not like. This shows how universities and institutes turned into tools for the security services to abuse and target anyone who does not obtain security approval. The main problem for Tantawy is not with the institute’s administration, but rather her inability to obtain security approval to return to her position as head of the department. The problem also lies in the Ministry of Higher Education’s refusal to promote Tantawy to the rank of professor. The security services refuse to give approval to Tantawy because she is the wife of a former political prisoner and because she once demanded his release and fought for his rights inside the prison, especially his right to medical care.
- The 10th of Ramadan Higher Technological Institute should stop all arbitrary measures against Tantawy.
- The Ministry of Higher Education and the institute should grant Tantawy the professorship degree, especially as she fulfilled all the legal and technical conditions.