Nathan Brown writes: On June 5, 2013, Amr Hamzawy, an academic and former liberal parliamentarian, tweeted a quick criticism of the verdict of an Egyptian court. Earlier this month, he discovered that he was being investigated for a criminal offense and was barred from leaving the country. The grave crime in question? Insulting the judiciary. If Hamzawy was guilty, then Egypt’s unemployment crisis might soon be solved: half the nation of Egypt can be gainfully employed imprisoning the other half, consisting of all those who have at one point in their life grumbled about a judge or a court verdict they read about.
A couple weeks earlier, Emad Shahin, a less politically prominent (and far less politically involved) academic, known among his colleagues and students for his self-effacing and gentle manner, found himself facing more serious charges of various forms of espionage and sedition. The State Security Prosecution was accusing him of helping to lead a conspiracy so vast and dangerous that it supposedly included the president at the time, Mohammed Morsi.
Both professors have been personal friends of mine for many years. But they have no secrets; they make their political judgments clear in their public statements and writing. I watched Hamzawy ascend politically in the wake of the 2011 revolution, refusing to lose his curly mop of hair, sideburns, or corduroy suits. His sole concession to political life seemed to be to make some (but not all) of his trademark complicated sentences a bit shorter. Shahin, truth be told, has twice run afoul of security forces. Once he discovered the hard way the hitherto unknown fact that Egypt actually has traffic laws by driving a bit too swiftly down a desert road. The police took away his license for a short period. I found out when he told me he could not bring himself to drop me off at the airport since it would involve breaking the law a second time, something he could not do. His second problem seemed to come whenever he entered the campus of the American University in Cairo where he has been teaching since returning to Egypt from Notre Dame and Harvard. Shahin confided that he has been regularly asked for identification since the security guards cannot believe someone so humble in gait and demeanor could possibly be on the faculty.
Both Hamzawy and Shahin are academics, but they have also been critical of the emerging political order in Egypt. Neither is a much of a firebrand. While different in their politics—Hamzawy closer to the liberal end of the spectrum; Shahin more respectful of political Islam—they also stand out for their ability to talk across Egypt’s great divide. Indeed, beneath all their erudition and complicated syntax, both seem ultimately simply nerdier versions of Rodney King: their message to their fellow citizens can be summed up as “People, I want to say–can we all get along?” [Continue reading…]