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Middle East studies scholars are protesting a provisional death sentence handed down by an Egyptian court to a visiting professor of political science at Georgetown University. Emad al-Din Shahin, who holds a professorial appointment at the American University in Cairo, was convicted in absentia for espionage-related charges May 16 along with more than 100 others, including ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.

“Although Dr. Shahin and his co-defendants were accused of conspiring with foreign organizations to harm Egyptian national security, it is unclear what specific charges were leveled against him, or what evidence was provided to support these charges,” the Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom wrote in a letter dated June 1. “This lack of clarity, combined with Dr. Shahin’s record of active public engagement and criticism of political developments which he views as weakening democracy in Egypt, suggest that his sentence may be a form of retaliation for his political views.”

“In the absence of concrete evidence of Dr. Shahin’s involvement in espionage, and in light of the fact that his co-defendants in the 'Grand Espionage' case are all Muslim Brotherhood members, including leaders at the highest level of the organization… it appears that Dr. Shahin is being punished for what the government views as support of the Muslim Brotherhood,” states the letter, which notes that Shahin has denied any involvement in the organization.

About 40 scholars signed another letter, posted last week on the Arab studies website Jadaliyya, describing the sentence as “appalling” and the charges against Shahin -- who has also taught at Harvard and Notre Dame Universities -- as “improbable.”

“We, the undersigned colleagues and personal friends of Professor Shahin, wish to add our voices to those who have expressed deep concern over the provisional sentence of death. But we do more: based on our personal knowledge of Professor Shahin’s character, activities and scholarship, we state that the charges are so utterly alien to his character as to lack any credibility whatsoever,” this letter states.