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Prominent Egyptian academic shocked over espionage charge

CAIRO — An internationally known Egyptian academic expressed dismay and disbelief Thursday over being charged with espionage, one of a string of recent court cases targeting public intellectuals, liberal activists and journalists.

Emad Shahin, a professor of public policy at the American University in Cairo who has also taught at Harvard, wrote in an open letter posted on Facebook of his “severe shock” at being named as a defendant in a case brought this month against more than 30 people, including deposed Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and other senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In the espionage case, one of four separate court proceedings against the former president, Morsi and his co-defendants are accused of conspiring with foreign militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, among other offenses.

“The indictment listed farfetched charges that my friends and associates would regard not merely as improbable but as beyond preposterous,” wrote Shahin, whose credentials also include serving as editor-in-chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics. “These claims are baseless and politically motivated.”

The American University in Cairo said in a statement it could not comment on the particulars of Shahin’s case, but said it “reaffirms its strong belief in the principle of freedom of expression.”

Egypt’s interim government has come under strong criticism from human rights groups for using judicial mechanisms to try to silence its critics. In its initial months in power, after the military deposed Morsi in July, its main target was the Muslim Brotherhood. But in recent months, the crackdown has widened to include secular opponents, many of whom have been charged under a law that in effect criminalizes street protests.

“Though I have always been a fervent critic of authoritarian rule in Egypt, I have always expressed strong support for peaceful protests to restore democracy and express popular opposition against government repression,” Shahin, who was traveling in the United States, wrote in his open letter.

The case was reminiscent of a recent legal move against another well-known intellectual, former member of parliament and political scientist Amr Hamzawy, who was charged this month with insulting the judiciary. That charge dated back to a tweeted criticism of a court ruling last year against foreign nongovernmental organizations involved in efforts to promote democracy in Egypt.
 

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