Q&A: Emad Shahin on Death Sentence, Egypt’s Future



Emad Shahin, a visiting professor of political science at the School of Foreign Service, was sentenced to death in absentia by the Egyptian government May 16, on charges of espionage.

As “Defendant 33,” Shahin received the sentence alongside over 120 defendants, including ousted president Mohammed Morsi, all of whom are alleged to have conspired against current president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s regime. While Shahin was critical of the crackdown on Morsi and his supporters, he had previously criticized Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government, as well.

A renowned scholar on political Islam, Shahin originally joined Georgetown’s faculty in 2005 as visiting associate professor at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, then resumed this position in fall 2014. In addition to teaching numerous courses on Middle Eastern political thought, Shahin is a board member of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. He is the editor-in-chief of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics.

The Hoya spoke to Shahin last week about his case, the support he received from Georgetown and the future of Egypt.

How did you feel when you were notified of the sentence?

​I always hoped that Egypt would one day have an independent judiciary that would act as the guardian for the rule of law, justice and democracy. The verdict made me sad that the Egyptian judiciary has reached that deplorable stage in which the judicial branch has become highly politicized and is being used as a tool to settle political accounts and eliminate political opponents to this brutal military regime.

As for me personally, I am only one among hundreds who have been condemned in mass death sentences through sham trials that showed complete disregard for due process and proper justice. It is not personal; it is about the current travesty of justice in General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s Egypt and the future of a country that needs social peace and reconciliation. These irrational sentences do not serve that purpose but increase the possibilities of revenge and radicalization.

Has the Georgetown community professors, administrators offered their support in any way? How do you feel about their support?

​Yes, they have, and I appreciate all the support I have received from the Georgetown community. As you know, I have already been teaching full time as a visiting professor at Georgetown’s SFS since last year. Several colleagues have signed letters of support on my behalf; the administration has expressed concern about my case, and the Georgetown University Police Department has contacted me to express serious concern about my personal safety and gave me extremely useful tips. I am especially grateful to my many Georgetown students who have written to me to express their support.

You see, I am a lucky man to enjoy all this support. To all of them, I say I am so grateful and overwhelmed. I am fine and will continue practicing what I teach, and will continue to promote democracy, human rights and rule of law in Egypt and the Middle East and North Africa region.

Will the sentence affect your plans to teach at Georgetown? If so, what are your plans for the future?

Georgetown has so far been very supportive of me, and I do not wish to put this great institution under any pressure because of my case. I will fully understand any decision the administration takes in this regard, but I know that the Georgetown administration takes values and beliefs, as it does education, very seriously, and will do the right thing.

What I am going through is because I stood for [that in which] I believed: democracy and rule of law. I opposed General Sisi’s military coup that crushed the initial hopes for democracy in Egypt and exposed its bloody and brutal measures against its political opponents. I intend to continue doing so.

What can be done to rectify the current situation in Egypt?

A lot could be done. For starters, the United States and the European Union should not reward or support coup leaders and autocratic regimes… Call a military coup a coup. Uphold and defend the standards of human rights. Look, so far, Sisi’s military regime has killed over 3,000 Egyptians, injured 16,000 and detained over 40,000 political dissidents. It has referred 4,011 civilian dissidents to military courts. 271 Egyptians died while in detention since last October because of torture and intolerable prison conditions. Over 20 students have been shot dead on campus. [The regime] has used rape against female students.

Sisi’s regime is a brutal one and should be stopped, not armed and rewarded. This is our responsibility as people who care about human rights and democracy. The [United States] and [European Union] cannot have it both ways: tolerate and support military regimes and advocate democracy at the same time. They have to make up their minds.

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