Egyptian authorities release historian on bail following lengthy interrogation at airport

Alia Mosallam, an Egyptian historian and a postdoctoral fellow at Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Berlin, was detained for over 17 hours at the airport upon arrival before being released on bail

July 12, 2021 by Abdul Rahman
Photo : Twitter

Egypt’s Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s government yet again came under criticism for human rights violations following the arrest of an academic Alia Mosallam upon her arrival in the country on Sunday, July 11. Historian Mossallam was detained by the authorities on Sunday evening at Cairo international airport. She was interrogated by the officials of the country’s National Security Agency for over 17 hours, which sparked widespread backlash. She was later produced before the state security prosecution officer who released her on bail on Monday, July 12. 

During detention Mossalam was not allowed to interact with her family members or lawyers. The officials have not given the reasons behind her detention yet. Mossallam is a post-doctoral fellow at Germany’s Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. She arrived in the country with her husband and three children when she was detained.

Mossallam’s detention led to criticism from different sections of the Egyptian society. Activists Mona Seif took to twitter calling it “madness” and questioning the motive of the state behind the constant harassment of civil society and academics. 

Several other people and groups criticized the move as part of Sisi’s continued attacks on academics and cultural activists. 

Since Al-Sisi came to power tens of thousands of activists, political opponents and academics have been thrown in prison and are languishing in Egyptian jails. Among those in prison is Mona’s brother Alaa Abdel Fattah who has been a constant target of state authorities due to his active participation in the 2011 revolution and criticism of the country’s government. He was arrested in 2011, 2013 and sentenced to five years in prison in 2015. He was released in March 2019 only to be arrested again in September same year. He remains in jail to this day. In November last year, an Egyptian judge deemed Fattah and 27 other political prisoners “terrorists” for their vocal opposition to Sisi’s rule.  

Political persecution under Sisi

After coming to power through a coup in 2013, the Sisi government has banned trade unions from carrying out strikes and unleashed attacks on media organizations critical to the government. The regime has particularly been harsh towards young students for their social media activism. It has shown paranoia about certain research topics pursued by the students during their studies abroad and targeted them upon their arrival in the country in the name of stability and security in the country.  

In June this year, Ahmed Samir Santawy, a master’s student at Central European University in Vienna, was sentenced to four years in prison for allegedly publishing false news. He was arrested in February by the Egyptian officials who first detained and questioned him upon his arrival at Cairo airport in December 2020 for his social media posts criticizing the human rights conditions in Egypt. His lawyer claims that he was also tortured during the detention by the authorities. 

Patrick George Zaki, a student of the University of Bologna in Italy and a researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), was arrested at Cairo International Airport in February 2020. He is still in jail without trial on charges such as “disseminating false news” and “attempting to incite protests’’ against the state.  

Walid Salem, a Ph.D. researcher at the University of Washington, was similarly arrested in May 2018. Salem was working on the country’s judicial system. In January 2016, 28-year-old Giulio Regeni from Italy, a Ph.D. student at Cambridge University, was kidnapped, tortured and killed, Regeni was researching trade unions.

Last week Egyptian authorities executed a 27-year-old engineering student Moataza Mustafa Hassan for assassinating a police officer in Alexandria in 2018 despite evidence confession elicited through torture and errors in trials pointed out by his lawyer.