Kholoud Saber (Photo: Bassam Mortada)
Over 20 rights groups condemned on Wednesday a December decision by Cairo University to end a post-graduate scholarship abroad for a staff member months after she started pursuing her studies.
Kholoud Saber, an assistant lecturer at Cairo University, started a year-long scholarship for PhD studies at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium last September.
Saber said she had obtained all the necessary permits from Cairo University before travelling.
Cairo University provided Saber with her plane tickets and monthly stipend while the university in Belgium covered her scholarship fees.
However, in December, Saber said she received an email from Cairo University informing her that her study abroad permit was revoked based on a decision by the information department at the Ministry of Higher Education.
She was asked to cut short her studies and return to Egypt to resume her duties at the psychology department.
It is not clear why the Ministry of Higher Education decided to revoke Saber’s permit.
According to rights groups, the information department does not have the authority to revoke permits issued by the university.
In a collective statement issued on Wednesday, 21 rights group said they "strongly condemn" the university's decision.
The groups, which include the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the Arab Network for Human Rights, said the decision to end Saber's scholarship "has dangerous ramifications for academic freedom [in Egypt]...and undermines the university's independence."
The groups call for "an end to all forms of security interference in the affairs of faculty members" by the higher education ministry and other security institutions and demand the preservation of university and academic freedoms.
The rights groups urge that the decision of summoning Saber back to work be revoked.
On Tuesday, Saber described the university's decision as "betrayal" in comments she wrote on her Facebook page.
Earlier this month, she filed a lawsuit against Cairo University head Gaber Nassar, the minister of higher education, as well as other officials, for the decision to cancel her study permit.
Nassar was not immediately available to comment on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the US-based Middle East Studies Association issued a security alert for those considering travelling to Egypt for research and study.
It condemned what it calls “attacks on freedom of expression and academic freedom in Egypt,” including “gross state interference in university student and faculty governance."
The memo stated that the "growth of violence and repression against academics and associated researchers in Egypt has now reached its tragically predictable outcome with the murder of PhD student Giulio Regeni.”
The body of the Italian student was found with signs of torture by a roadside on the outskirts of Cairo last week after he disappeared in the capital on 25 January.
The Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman said Wednesday that drawing conclusions about his death is "premature."
He also warned that "attempts to level accusations against the Egyptian authorities without evidence could backfire."