Minister of Irrigation Hossam El-Moghazy dropped charges Sunday against Nader Nour El-Din, Professor of Agriculture at Cairo University, following weeks of solidarity initiatives and media concern over the case, state media reported.
El-Moghazy had levelled libel and defamation charges against Nour El-Din on 8 November. The Agouza Prosecution called Nour El-Din for investigation two days later, and spent three hours discussing the charges.
The prosecution’s investigation focused on Nour El-Din’s opinion piece published in Al-Fajr Weekly website regarding the water security file and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in February. El-Moghazy considered the professor’s view, which saw the process of GERD negotiations as “a threat to national security”, a personal insult.
“The minister himself admitted to the slow progress of negotiations compared to the pace of the construction of the dam during the ninth round of negotiations held in Cairo on 7 November,” said Nour El-Din in a video posted by the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE).
“In this case, I am talking about the minister as a public figure and his role, so I retain the right to criticise him in this regard,” added Nour El-Din. “Publishing cases do not entail imprisonment so it was absurd that the minister called for enforcing the harshest penalty on me.”
Researcher at AFTE, Mohamed Abdel Salam, described the incident as “quite negative”, lamenting the increase in the number of allegations that infringe upon the right to freedom of expression and academic freedoms.
“Dropping the charges is beside the point because the charges were groundless to begin with; the prosecution was probably going to close investigation anyway,” commented Abdel Salam.
Abdel Salam attributed the cause of concern in cases of this nature to the prosecution and the judges who eventually adopt such cases and give them importance.
“There are countless allegations levelled in a similar manner, with the aim of stirring debate; however if we implement the law and the international treaties pertaining to freedom of expression, there would be no legal basis for such charges,” said Abdel Salam.
A week following the investigation with Nour El-Din, Cairo University expressed its solidarity with him, considering the allegations a “restriction of the right to freedom of expression”. The university also called on the Ministry of Irrigation to drop charges against Nour El-Din or any other individual in similar cases.
In addition to Cairo University’s statement, 46 public figures, including Ammar Ali Hassan and George Isaac, expressed their solidarity with Nour El-Din and articulated their concern regarding the development of the GERD negotiations, which they viewed as largely “ineffective”.
The GERD has been a major topic of debate among policy makers, as well as academic and public figures. Egypt has been undergoing negotiations regarding the construction of the dam and its possible implications on its share of the Nile River water, in an attempt to reach an agreement, where the interests of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia could be guaranteed.