When I was studying for my PhD at the Free University of Berlin, I got accepted to Princeton University as a visiting scholar in 2017. At Princeton, I studied the history and experience of the Jewish minority in Egypt from 1915 to 1952.
At the beginning, my doctorate was supported by a scholarship from my University in Egypt. However, my scholarly work created political reverberations against the regime of General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi, which in turn caused my Ph.D. funding to be disrupted and suddenly terminated.
The State began a campaign of harassment through the Office of the Cultural Attaché in the Egyptian Embassy in Berlin. The Attaché, Ahmed Farouk Hamed Ghoneim, as a representative of the Egyptian police state, carried out a campaign of verbal and written threats against me. He tried repeatedly to intimidate me and to get me to hand over my passport, treating me like some child who is to be punished. Because I had been sponsored by the University in Egypt, I needed my original passport to maintain my position at the university in Berlin.
Mr. Ghoneim was trying to force me to return to Egypt. Even though I have already submitted one certified copy of my passport through the Free University of Berlin, Mr. Ghoneim has continued making threats and insisting that I send the original passport. I am an Egyptian citizen who happens to know my legal rights and therefore will never give up any documents related to my identity.
I am also a scholar who searches history and expresses my opinions to the fullest extent of modern academic freedom, which has clearly disturbed the regime of General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi. The threats of the regime started towards me on Friday, June 26, 2017, during a scheduled appointment at Mr. Ghoneim’s office at the Egyptian Embassy in Berlin.
Mr. Ghoneim was very curious about the nature of my academic studies. He bombarded me with endless questions about the reason for choosing to study the history of the Jews in Egypt, as well as many more questions regarding my knowledge of the Hebrew language. His aggressive and suspicious questioning about the Jewish component of my studies made me feel as if I was being interrogated by a nasty mid-level police officer in Cairo rather than a cultural diplomat in Berlin. This aggressive pattern of questions dates back to the military interrogations introduced by Egyptian military generals after their coup in the early fifties who targeted all the minorities in Egypt, including the Jewish minority, attempting to arrest, detain or expel them on baseless charges of espionage or conspiracy.
Mr. Ghoneim also questioned me aggressively on the topic of my political activism. His questions indicated that my research and criticism of the negotiations process in 2016 regarding the two islands of Tiran and Sanafir, surrendered by General Sisi as some sort of souvenir for Saudi’s King Salman’s first visit to Egypt, seemed to be a significant reason for his agitation towards me. Mr. Ghoneim then proceeded to show me something on his computer screen. Apparently, he had saved two or three videos of my televised appearances on major news networks, including DW and BBC. On different broadcasts, I have provided commentary on the subject of the Tiran and Sanafir Islands, and the topic of academic freedom in Egypt. Mr. Ghoneim then continued to aggressively question me about my comments in these interviews.
After questioning me about my television appearances, Mr. Ghoneim again attempted to confiscate my passport. I refused to hand it over. Then he tried in a threatening way to get me to hand over my social media account passwords. Again, I refused. The appointment ended after that. From Berlin, I contacted former 2012 Presidential candidate Khalid Ali and informed him that I had found a lot of useful maps regarding the historical Egyptian sovereignty of the two Islands at the Library of the Free University of Berlin. After collecting all the useful maps and documents I could find, I sent them to Khaled Ali.
Khaled Ali is a lawyer by training and was the lead lawyer on the legal defense team that litigated before the Supreme Egyptian Court Circuit that ruled in the case of the sovereignty of the Islands of Tiran and Sanafir. Relying on Egyptian maps of the area and other historical documents, the Court ruled in favor of the defense team led by Khaled Ali.
This extraordinary verdict which openly defied General Sisi caused a new wave of hostile threats and harassment against me by the Egyptian Embassy in Berlin, which again tried to confiscate my passport, infringe upon my academic freedom, and restrict my ability to travel freely.
Image: BERLIN, GERMANY – JULY 30: Christian Mihr, German president of the Reporters Without Borders Organization, is seen to deliver over 2 thousand 100 signatures after his speech, collected under the signature campaign to Embassy of Egypt in Berlin during a protest against to release Egyptian journalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid prisoned in Egypt, known as ‘Shawkan’, in front of the Berlin Embassy Building in Berlin, Germany on July 30, 2018. (Photo by Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)