Students react to perceived political oppression

Deena Douara
6 Min Read

Free Student Union elections held in protest of campus clampdown on activism

CAIRO: Students for the second year in a row voted this week in parallel, unofficial Free Student Union elections with candidates mostly composed of students affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and socialist groups.

The elections came amid controversy and violence that erupted two weeks ago at Ain Shams, Cairo, and Helwan universities due to hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood and socialist students being barred from university-sanctioned Student Union ballots.

Ain Shams university Free Student Union elections early this week were disrupted by plainclothes security when they attacked voters and organizers with sticks, knives, and bottles as police stood by, according to human rights sources and student activists. Professor Dr. Mohamed Abdel-Aal said on news talk show “10 Masa’il that campus security had told him they received orders not to interfere in violence that erupted when baltagaya (gangsters) were allowed in to the university.

We want to let the world know what it means when we students from the faculty of humanities say no we won t give up our rights, read a poster outside the Free Student Union election stations at Cairo University. How beautiful being proactive is when it s for justice it said. Approximately 700 students ran in the elections, and over 8,000 voted across the university, according to Mohamed Saiid, Free Student Union Humanities vice president, reflecting a much broader atmosphere of resistance and determination taking place at universities across Cairo and Alexandria. Still, many students around campus were not aware of the elections taking place.

These students have a right to do what they want, Cairo University professor Dr Laila Soueif told The Daily Star Egypt. [The student union] wasn t an election at all. They wiped out anyone they didn’t want . This seems far more reasonable than what happened.

Soueif supervised the elections due to fears of a repeat of the violence that shook Ain Shams University elections.

It s important to have a voice, said winning Muslim Brotherhood candidate Hagar Mahmoud, referring to the many candidates and voters that got involved to oppose perceived injustice.

Even if we can t accomplish anything and all we are saying is that what happened was wrong, that s enough.

You wouldn t believe how much injustice we face, said winning candidate Habiba Abdel-Manaam, referring to the negative treatment students get from administration and workers, the failure of the curriculum, inability to find work after graduation, and the personal authority professors have over passing and failing students.

The poster in front of the ballot boxes echoed similar charges: I don t know if you ll believe me or not if I tell you [there is a budget for the Student Union] of LE 60,000 for each faculty. Where does it all go? We don t see any of it.

But despite the heightened level of enthusiasm and campus activism, some candidates said they feared their names would now be blacklisted as troublemakers by the authorities and that they would be monitored.

“I think girls can get [threatening letters] now too, said Abdel Manaam.

Socialist candidate Roaa Ibrahim claims a security guard took a picture of her and followed her and other female candidates around campus as they distributed flyers.

Just by our names being listed it can make problems with the administration, with professors. For sure we ll face problems, but it s worth it for us, said socialist candidate Noha Hassan.

Although there were no reported clashes at Cairo University, the Student Union did organize a number of officially condoned distractions, at one point loudly celebrating the president of the Student Union next to the voting station, a move Soueif found ridiculous, and very disturbing as classes were being conducted nearby.

On the agenda for socialist and Muslim Brotherhood candidates are many mainstream initiatives, with few specifically religious or political targets.

Amongst last year’s activities and this year s plans are art shows, festivals, trips, and sports tournaments. Socialist candidates discussed tuition and aid issues as well. The Muslim Brotherhood flyer for the cross-faculty elections lists many common goals relating to self-development and leadership, such as introducing model political bodies and enrichment courses, as well as references to discovering and enhancing peoples talents.

Since the Free Student Unions do not receive funding from universities, Salah Abdel-Rahman, previous Free Student Union media advisor at Cairo University, says they are seeking corporate sponsors for their events.

Although students do want to start a political committee, Abdel-Manaam says, Everything has its time.

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