First they came for the Muslim Brothers, then the human rights and democracy activists, then the domestic academic dissidents. Now, the reinvigorated authoritarian regime of Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has apparently trained its sights on Western scholars who dare question—let alone challenge—the new pharaoh’s reign.
On December 13, Michele Dunne, a Senior Associate with the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and 17-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service, was barred entry to Egypt and sent home with instructions not to return.
David Kirkpatrick of The New York Times reports Dunne had traveled to Egypt to attend a conference hosted by the Egyptian Council on Foreign Affairs, a “generally pro-government organization composed mainly of former Egyptian diplomats.” Despite this seemingly mundane academic purpose, Dunne was held at the Cairo airport by internal security forces for over six hours before finally being released with a one-way ticket back to the United States.
When asked why she had been detained and placed on a return flight, Dunne was told, “No reason, but, Madame, you cannot access Egypt anymore.”
Neither the U.S. State Department, whose staff appears internally conflicted over Washington’s official Egypt policy, nor the Egyptian Council on Foreign Relations pressed the Egyptian government for further details.
Dunne has been and continues to be a vocal critic of Sisi and the state-led crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and other dissidents. She has written extensively on the continued increase in government repression against political dissent and labeled the July 2013 overthrow of then-President Mohamed Morsi a military coup d’etat—an “offense” deserving of legal penalties.
Given Dunne’s publishing record and the purpose of her planned visit, one can only conclude that she was barred entry as a warning to other Western academics interested in Egypt. The message is clear: If you publish anything “insulting” [read: criticizing with any measure of factual credibility] Sisi or his government, you will lose any and all ability conduct field research.
This marks an interesting and unfortunate turn in Egypt’s race to seal the revolutionary jinn back in the bottle after it was released on January 25 2011. The government’s treatment of an esteemed American scholar speaks volumes about its ever escalating insecurity—indeed, paranoia—where free speech, public scrutiny, and political dissent are concerned. The military regime cannot allow pesky scholars with their empirical research and reasoned arguments to challenge the state narrative or interfere with the process of rewriting history.
The academy must be controlled. Academics must toe the party line. Otherwise, they must be kept quiet, forced into exile, or, in this case, denied access. Everywhere the noose continues to tighten, which forces us to ask, where and when will it end?