CAIRO: University professors will launch strike action on March 23 if their demands for improved pay and conditions are not met.
In November the Teaching Staff of Egyptian Universities Club – a group which represents the interests of teaching staff in the absence of an official union – began a signature campaign expressing support for a committee empowered to negotiate with the government.
During its fifth annual meeting, held last Friday, the Club voted for strike action.
It has persistently called on the government to enter into negotiations with university professors about poor pay, security body interference in academic activities and political detention of professors.
“Professors are willing to accept gradual change, but they need someone to talk to them, Dr Amr El-Darrag, vice chairman of the Club told Daily News Egypt.
He says that the campaign has so far gathered more than 9,000 signatures.
In December 2007 the minister of education formed advisory committees to examine conditions in universities.
El-Darrag says that the committees took two months to produce a report, which, when it appeared, offered nothing tangible to professors.
“The report didn’t have anything clear which university professors can put their fingers on, El-Darrag said.
Newspapers reported the Minister of Education Hany Helal as saying that while salaries won’t increase, conditional bonuses will be paid.
El-Darrag told Daily News Egypt that the Club is insisting on an increase in basic pay.
“Professors want an increase in salaries. They are concerned about the criteria which will be used to decide who is selected for bonuses, how they are distributed and how professors are evaluated, El-Darrag explained.
Laila Soueif, a member of the March 9 movement, a group of Cairo university professors who came together in March 2003 in protest at the US invasion of Iraq and who now press for university autonomy and academic freedom, told Daily News Egypt that university professors want concrete action from the government.
“We’re sick of receiving promises without anything major changing. Bonuses are paid but they’re not across the board, she explained.
Soueif says that the Club convened a strike committee during the annual meeting to organise strike action.
El-Darrag said that two main camps had emerged during the Club’s annual meeting.
“The first point of view was that we should hold a one-day strike, while others thought that we should take gradual steps such as protests and wait until our case had been well publicised, El-Darrag explained. “There was a lot of pressure for the first option – some 75 percent of professors at the meeting voted to strike, he continued.
Professors also voted to hold a protest on Monday outside Cairo University in solidarity with eight university professors who are currently being tried in a military court. A verdict is expected in the case on Tuesday.
The eight men form part of a group of 40 members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood currently being tried on charges of membership of an illegal organisation and possession of prohibited literature.
The case was referred to a military tribunal after an ordinary court acquitted the current defendants.
“It’s not proper to try civilians in military courts – especially given that they have been cleared by ordinary courts, El-Darrag told Daily News Egypt.