CAIRO: Professors throughout Egypt went on strike Sunday to renew demands for better pay and working conditions.
Simultaneous protests were held at 1 pm outside university administrative buildings. Some 200 university professors attended the protest at Cairo University.
According to Dr Mohamed Abul Ghar, a member of the University Autonomy Group (popularly known as the March 9 Movement, a group of Cairo University professors who came together in March 2003 to protest the US invasion of Iraq and who now press for university autonomy and academic freedom) there was a high strike turnout in three of Cairo University’s faculties.
“Ninety-five percent of professors in the arts, engineering and science faculties went on strike, and even professors who had no lectures scheduled today came to join the strike, Abul Ghar told Daily News Egypt.
During the protest speakers said that 85 percent of teaching staff in the faculties of science and arts were on strike with 90 percent of professors striking within the chemistry department.
Professor of mathematics Laila Soueif told Daily News Egypt that within her department only the faculty dean gave lectures today.
Abul Ghar says that university professors were warned against joining the strike by faculty deans, who threatened disciplinary measures against teaching staff who take part.
This was confirmed by another professor at Cairo University who preferred to remain anonymous.
She told Daily News Egypt that the dean of the faculty of fine arts had telephoned professors yesterday and warned them that they would be “made an example of if they joined the strike.
During the protest today speakers urged the government to address deteriorating teaching standards in universities caused, they say, by under-funding and low morale among teaching staff whose pay scales have not been altered since 1972.
One speaker said that the number of protestors – the highest in Cairo University’s history – was a clear sign that professors have lost faith in the minister of education.
Starting salaries for assistant university professors are currently just under LE 500 per month. A senior university professor makes LE 3,000 on average.
The Egyptian University Faculty Club – a group which represents teaching staff’s interests in the absence of an official union – issued a press statement on Wednesday in which it listed professors’ demands.
In addition to the doubling of current salaries, the club is also demanding changes in pay scales of elderly professors’ salaries, an increase in government spending on universities and the construction of new universities to ease overcrowding, and the creation of a supplementary fund for teaching staff pensions.
In a meeting last Tuesday with university professors, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif rejected calls for an increase in basic salaries, saying that this would “anger other sectors of society.
He offered wage increases in the form of allowances.
In addition, the government has previously proposed putting in place a scheme whereby a “superior grade of professors would be created who would receive better pay and conditions.
Dr Amr El-Darrag, vice-chairman of the club, told Daily News Egypt that professors rejected this proposal.
“The criteria according to which select professors would be chosen for this superior grade were mostly unclear but seemed to be related to performance and academic record, El-Darrag said.
“Professors rejected this and so the government subsequently proposed that professors volunteer themselves for the superior grade rather than be selected, which we also reject. How can some professors be superior and others not? It’s an illogical and divisive proposal and we want wage increases across the board, he continued.
Elsewhere in Egypt, university professors reported strong strike turnout.
Professor of engineering at Alexandria University Dr Fahmy Ali Fath El Bab told Daily News Egypt that between 1,500 and 2,000 professors went on strike with a 100 percent strike turnout in the faculty of engineering.
It was also reported during the protest at Cairo University that there was a 100 percent turnout at Alexandria University’s faculty of fine arts.
Dr Tareq Dessouqy a professor at Mansoura University and spokesman for the strike coordination committee, told Daily News Egypt that roughly 60 percent of professors went on strike and some 1,000 joined the 1 pm protest.
Professor of geology Dr Yehia Gazaz says that the strike was a success.
“There was a 60 percent turnout at Helwan University with a 100 percent turnout at the faculty of geology, Gazaz told Daily News Egypt. “This strike was the first of its kind in Egyptian universities and so we expected a smaller turnout than this. It’s a huge success, he said.