Universities as one of the authorities’ tools: Report on universities’ surveillance of academics’ off-campus activities

Date : Wednesday, 11 October, 2023





First: Surveillance everywhere

Second: Violation of the constitution and international conventions

Third: Mass surveillance as a tool to strengthen the power of universities

Conclusion and recommendations




This report is based on testimonies from some academics who were subjected to administrative violations by their universities, in addition to information obtained from the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression’s (AFTE) Legal Aid Unit. It also relied on violation cases reported in the field of academic freedom and student rights.



The report discusses the expansion of the powers of universities in recent years, which have extended to monitoring the private lives of faculty members and students at the same time. By doing so, universities are trying to acquire powers and roles that violate the Egyptian constitution, the law regulating universities, and international conventions regarding freedom of thought and expression and academic and student rights.

The report is divided into three sections, highlighting in the first one the concept of surveillance, which governs the relationship between the authorities and citizens, and how the policy of surveillance moved to universities so they can monitor the off-campus private activities of faculty members and students.

The second section discusses how the universities’ policy of surveillance and punishment violates local laws and international standards and charters by reviewing relevant articles of the Egyptian constitution, the law regulating universities, and some international standards.

The last section of the report reviews a number of violations committed by universities against faculty members and students over their private activities under various charges, including contempt of religions, breach of university values, and others.


First: Surveillance everywhere

The authorities seek to control all aspects of citizens’ political, economic, social and cultural lives. The institutions increase their capabilities and expand their scope to track down and monitor individuals not only to control their conduct, but also to control all aspects of their lives. Surveillance and control have become the hallmark of the relationship between the state and the citizens.[1]

The authorities always seek to create a permanent feeling among individuals that they are under surveillance in various public and private spaces. In his book “Discipline and Punish”, Michel Foucault points to a constant phobia and a permanent sense of surveillance in modern society. He says this sense exists in highly fortified prisons and protected houses, and among employees, police officers, teachers, in addition to all our daily activities and living conditions, which are all linked to the surveillance carried out by the authorities. Moreover, Foucault says, individuals monitor each other to make sure they adhere to acceptable patterns of behavior.[2]

The Egyptian authorities have long exercised surveillance, punishment, and repression, and this has become more evident since 2013, in an apparent bid to control citizens. They began by trying to control any attempt to participate in the public sphere through laws, such as the law prohibiting demonstrations and peaceful assembly[3], the law on the protection of public facilities[4], and the rules of amateur photography[5]. Similarly, surveillance extended to cyberspace, with the state issuing laws aimed at monitoring the behaviors and activities of thousands of individuals and restricting their use of information. These laws included Law No. 175 of 2018 on Combating Information Technology Crimes[6], which imposes prison sentences and fines for relative moral crimes whose elements are difficult to identify, such as the crime of infringing on Egyptian family values and outraging public decency. Law No. 180 of 2018 regulating the press and media gives the judicial and security authorities and the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (SCMR) the authority to block websites and social media accounts with more than five thousand followers for security considerations, or in cases of spreading false news or contempt of religions and divine beliefs[7]. Likewise, some bodies issued gag orders, such as the one issued by the Egyptian Travel Agents Association.[8]

These laws aim to establish and extend surveillance to the private lives of citizens. Social media platforms have become an important tool for the government to monitor citizens’ activities. The authorities developed tools to monitor social media platforms for any content that could be considered a threat to national security.


Universities in the footsteps of the authorities:

Universities in Egypt adopt the same approach of the authorities in terms of controlling and monitoring students’ lives and academic freedom, and restricting any attempt of expression and thought on and off campus. This approach expanded significantly after 2013. The law regulating universities No. 49 of 1972 was amended in 2014, abolishing the election mechanism in selecting university leaders, and placing the power to appoint and dismiss university leaders in the hands of the President of the Republic.[9]

This has consolidated security interventions in university administrative affairs, as well as the approach of monitoring and punishment that may target university professors for academic or even personal behavior. Article 25 of the law was amended to read: “University presidents shall be appointed by a decision from the President of the Republic based on a proposal from the Minister of Higher Education. A university president shall be selected from among three candidates nominated by a specialized committee.” Also, Article 72 of Law No. 103 of 1961 regulating Al-Azhar institutions was also amended[10], allowing the university president to dismiss faculty members and students under allegations of participating in demonstrations or acts of sabotage, in addition to requiring security approval for faculty members to travel abroad for the purpose of studying or attending scientific conferences at foreign universities.

Moreover, universities restrict academic freedom by interfering in scientific research and limiting the spaces available to professors in determining the subjects they teach. Universities tend to further restrict and control the behaviors and activities of professors by banning them from participating in public affairs, including media appearances, writing articles, making press statements, and posting on social media. In September 2015, the Kafr El-Sheikh University issued a decision banning its professors from appearing on the media, publishing any articles, or making press statements without prior permission from the university president or a written approval from the body concerned at the university. The Suez Canal University issued a similar decision in November 2015.[11]

The universities’ policies did not stop at this limit of restriction and arbitrariness, but extended to monitor the off-campus behaviors and activities of professors and students, as will be discussed in this report. In this regard, universities committed varied violations, including referring students and professors to investigation – and even dismissing a student – for expressing their religious views on social media.

Universities punish professors for expressing their opinions on government policies and the economic situation in the country. They also punish students over off-campus quarrels. The Suez Canal University dismissed a professor over an entertainment video showing her dancing, under the pretext of violating the university values. In the same context, universities hindered the promotion of professors due to the political activism of their relatives.

These practices show that universities tend to consolidate their role in monitoring and tracking the off-campus activities of professors and students, and to punish them through investigation, dismissal or deduction from salary. Universities also grant themselves competencies not stipulated in the constitution, law, or international conventions. The Egyptian constitution and international conventions provide for academic freedom, the independence of universities, and the right to freedom of thought and expression. The report will highlight this point in the section on legal framework.

These practices do not only violate the independence of universities, academic freedoms, and student rights, but also allow the security services to use universities as a tool of surveillance and punishment. So, if the security services did not notice the behaviors or activities of certain individuals, universities would track these behaviors that contradict the authorities’ repressive security policies and punish those individuals.


Second: Violation of the constitution and international conventions

Article 65 of the Egyptian constitution stipulates that “freedom of thought and opinion is guaranteed, and all individuals have the right to express their opinions through speech, writing, imagery, or any other means of expression and publication”.[12] Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states:

  1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
  2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.[13]

This means that freedom of thought and expression is guaranteed to all individuals, including students and faculty members.

Article 21 of the Egyptian constitution stipulates that “the state shall guarantee the independence of universities and scientific and linguistic academies, and provide university education in accordance with international quality standards. It shall develop and ensure free provision of university education in state universities and institutes according to the law”.

Article 22 also stipulates that “teachers and faculty members and their assistants are the main pillars of education. The state shall guarantee the development of their academic competencies and professional skills and shall care for their financial and moral rights in order to ensure the quality of education and achieve its goals”.[14]

International conventions also shed light on academic freedom and rights. During a conference held in 1997 on the status of higher-education teaching personnel, UNESCO expressed concern regarding the vulnerability of the academic community to untoward political pressures which could undermine academic freedom. It said in its recommendations that “the right to education, teaching and research can only be fully enjoyed in an atmosphere of academic freedom and autonomy for institutions of higher education and the open communication of findings, hypotheses and opinions lies at the very heart of higher education and provides the strongest guarantee of the accuracy and objectivity of scholarship and research”.

In 1999, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights issued an explanatory commentary on academic freedom, which stated: “Members of the academic community, individually or collectively, are free to pursue, develop and transmit knowledge and ideas, through research, teaching, study, discussion, documentation, production, creation or writing. Academic freedom includes the liberty of individuals to express freely opinions about the institution or system in which they work, to fulfil their functions without discrimination or fear of repression by the State or any other actor, to participate in professional or representative academic bodies, and to enjoy all the internationally recognized human rights applicable to other individuals in the same jurisdiction.”

The committee also recommended that “higher-education teaching personnel, like all other groups and individuals, should enjoy those internationally recognized civil, political, social and cultural rights applicable to all citizens. Therefore, all higher-education teaching personnel should enjoy freedom of thought, conscience, religion, expression, assembly and association as well as the right to liberty and security of the person and liberty of movement. They should not be hindered or impeded in exercising their civil rights as citizens, including the right to contribute to social change through freely expressing their opinion of state policies and of policies affecting higher education. They should not suffer any penalties simply because of the exercise of such rights. Higher-education teaching personnel should not be subject to arbitrary arrest or detention, nor to torture, nor to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”[15]


Third: Mass surveillance as a tool to strengthen the power of universities

Violations over criticizing state policies:

Professor of public opinion and political communication and former head of the Radio and Television Department at the Faculty of Mass Communication, Cairo University, Ayman Mansour Nada was subjected to several administrative, judicial and security violations for expressing his opinion about the local media scene and leading TV hosts on Facebook. This report highlights the administrative violations that Cairo University committed against Nada.

On 29 March 2021, the Cairo University suspended Nada for three months. The suspension was repeatedly renewed every three months for a total of 18 months. The university also deleted Nada’s name from all faculty rolls as well as the theses he supervised, according to him.

The university, moreover, referred Nada to a disciplinary board in September 2021 in cases No. 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, and 21 of 2021, over articles in which he criticized the Cairo University administration, providing documents as evidence. This prompted Nada to tender his resignation on 9 June 2022 in protest against the university’s mismanagement and corruption as well as the violations committed against him.

Nada was exposed to these violations (in addition to other judicial and security violations) after he published a number of articles on Facebook in which he criticized the state’s management of the media file. He also criticized some prominent TV presenters, including Ahmed Moussa and Amr Adeeb. He further published several articles criticizing what he called the corruption of the Cairo University under its president Mohamed Othman Al-Khosht.[16]

An Egyptian academy referred two professors to investigation on 17 March 2022, on charges of publishing statements doubting and criticizing national projects and the performance of state institutions, accusing them of failing to face problems, and accusing the security services of committing violations against citizens.[17]

On 23 October 2022, the Faculty of Science at Helwan University excluded Dr. Yehia al-Qazzaz, a professor in the Department of Biology, from representing the department in the faculty’s board of directors under the pretext that he was being interrogated by the State Security Prosecution. It skipped his due turn in violation of the university regulations, as Article 40 of the Universities Organization Law, which regulates the formation of faculty boards, states: “The board of directors of the faculty or institute affiliated with the university shall be headed by the dean, and its membership shall include vice deans, heads of departments, and a professor from each department, provided that the membership of the department’s professors shall rotate periodically every year based on seniority.”[18]

The university’s violations against Al-Qazzaz started in July 2019, when he was investigated based on a complaint submitted by the dean of the Faculty of Science to the president of the university, accusing him of insulting the President of the Republic and the Armed Forces. The university also referred him to two disciplinary boards in 2018 and 2020 on charges of joining a terrorist group and insulting the President of the Republic on social media.[19]


Violations over insulting the administration:

On 27 July 2022, the disciplinary board of the 10th of Ramadan Higher Technological Institute decided to punish Manar Al-Tantawy, an assistant professor at the Mechanical Engineering Department in the institute’s branch in the 6th of October City, with a 15-day deduction from her salary. In a disciplinary lawsuit (No. 18 of 2021) filed against her, Al-Tantawy faced charges of insulting the institute and its dean via social media and some anti-government satellite channels.

This came after the institute’s dean refused to allow Al-Tantawy to return to her official position as head of the mechanical engineering department, and prevented her from obtaining a professorship degree although she fulfilled all the required technical and legal conditions.

The case began when Al-Tantawy demanded her legal right to head the mechanical engineering department in her capacity as the most senior professor in the department. The dean of the institute rejected her request because she is the wife of former prisoner of conscience journalist Hisham Gaafar.[20]

On 12 April 2018, the Faculty of Tourism and Hotels at Fayoum University referred student Abdel Rahman Abdel Tawab to investigation over a Facebook post in which he described the situation in the university as “black as molasses”. The university suspended the fourth-year student for a full week and prevented him from entering its campus. The faculty summoned the student and asked him to delete the post and to write another post to apologize and describe the faculty as one of the best, but he refused on the grounds that it’s a matter of personal freedom.[21]


Violations over a dance video:

On 12 September 2022, the Supreme Administrative Court upheld the ruling of the Administrative Judiciary Court to dismiss professor Mona al-Prince Radwan from the university while allowing her to get the pension or the severance pay. The court stated that the ruling was issued on the basis of two charges, the first is that Radwan posted several videos on her Facebook accounts showing her dancing, and insisted to post more such videos, thus degrading the prestige of university professors, their message, and their responsibility for spreading values. The second charge, the court said, was that she deviated from the scientific description of the academic curricula and spread destructive ideas that contradict the heavenly beliefs, by challenging the constants of religion during lectures by saying that “Satan was subjected to injustice or that he expressed his thoughts and desires freely”.

On 15 May 2018, the Suez Canal University issued Decree No. 187 to dismiss Radwan while allowing her to retain her pension. The investigation with her lasted 14 months, during which she faced charges of posting dance videos on social media, travelling without permission from the university, blasphemy, and contempt of religions.

The ruling to dismiss Radwan shows how the university tries to obtain powers that do not fall within its jurisdiction, by tracking the professors, restricting their personal freedom, using administrative sanctions to punish them for their personal conduct, and imposing certain societal values inside and outside the university.[22]


Conclusion and recommendations


The report highlighted the administrative violations the universities commit against the personal lives of faculty members and students. The universities seek to exercise surveillance and guardianship over the private lives of academics and students. They continue to commit violations on the basis of charges, including contempt of religions, insulting the administration, criticizing state policies, and deviating from societal traditions and values.

These various violations contradict local laws and international conventions that stipulate freedom of expression and guarantee academic freedom and student rights. Through these violations, the universities also consolidate the policy of surveillance pursued by the authorities with all their institutions, including the universities that work to suppress any attempt to express opinion or oppose the state policies. The universities do not only monitor the behavior of professors and students on and off campus, but also commit violations they deem necessary to control the conduct of academics and students alike. Accordingly, AFTE recommends the following:

  • The universities should stop monitoring the personal lives of professors and students.
  • The universities should stop playing the role of moral guardianship.
  • The universities should stop administrative violations against academics and students.


[1] https://tabayyun.dohainstitute.org/ar/issue040/Pages/art05.aspx

[2] Michel Foucault, “Discipline and Punish”, Paris: National Development Centre, 1999.

[3] Law No. 107 of 2013 on the Right to Public Meetings, Processions and Peaceful Demonstrations, the Official Gazette, Issue No. 47 bis, 24 November 2013, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://manshurat.org/node/6547

[4] Securing and protecting public and vital facilities and the jurisdiction of military judiciary over crimes committed against them, the Official Gazette, Issue No. 43 bis, 27 October 2014, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://manshurat.org/node/6563

[5] Fatma al-Serougy, "Everything you should know about rules of personal photography in public places", Al-Ahram, 8 August 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://gate.ahram.org.eg/News/3632582..aspx

[6] "Law No. 175 of 2018 on Combating Information Technology Crimes", the Official Gazette, Issue No. 32 bis, 14 August 2018, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://www.cc.gov.eg/legislation_single?id=386006

[7] "Law No. 180 of 2018 regulating the press and media and the Supreme Council for Media Regulation", the Official Gazette, Issue No. 34 bis, 27 August 2018, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://manshurat.org/node/31481

[8] Ramy Hussein, "WhatsApp number to receive videos of abuse of tourists", Al-Dostour, 25 May 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://www.dostor.org/4093126

[9] Presidential Decree by Law No. 52 of 2014, the Official Gazette, Issue No. 25, 24 June 2014, last visited on 15 January 2023, https://manshurat.org/node/12946

[10] Law No. 103 of 1961 on the regulation of Al-Azhar institutions, last visited on 28 May 2023, http://www.azhar.edu.eg/Portals/4/azharLawOrganize_1.pdf

[11] Pretrial detention as punishment for opposition university professors, AFTE, March 2020, last visited on 13 January 2023, https://afteegypt.org/research/monitoring-reports/2020/03/19/18526-afteegypt.html

[12] The Egyptian constitution, last visited on 28 May 2023, https://manshurat.org/node/14675

[13] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, United Nations, last visited on 28 May 2023, https://www.ohchr.org/ar/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/international-covenant-civil-and-political-rights

[14] The Egyptian constitution, last visited on 28 May 2023, https://manshurat.org/node/14675

[15]  UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, United Nations, last visited on 28 May 2023, https://www.ohchr.org/ar/treaty-bodies/cescr

[16] Testimony from Ayman Mansour Nada to AFTE.

[17] AFTE’s Legal Aid Unit.

[18] The law regulating universities, last visited on 28 May 2023, https://t.ly/zCDv

[19] Ahmed Salama, "A new episode of Yehia al-Qazzaz series", 23 October 2022, Darb website, last visited on 28 May 2023, https://shorturl.at/bZ256

Pretrial detention as punishment for opposition university professors, AFTE, 19 March 2020, last visited on 28 May 2023, https://afteegypt.org/research/monitoring-reports/2020/03/19/18526-afteegypt.html

[20] AFTE’s Legal Aid Unit.

[21] Rania al-Daydamony, "Fayoum University student dismissed for insulting the university", Shafaf (Egyptian Universities Network), 16 April 2018, last visited on 28 May 2023, http://www.shafaff.com/article/75372

[22] Laila Farid, "Final ruling to dismiss Mona al-Prince from the university", Darb, 12 September 2022, last visited on 28 May 2023, https://shorturl.at/GRWY0

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