CAIRO: “Mr. President, Mr. President, Egypt’s youth are behind bars. With those words Belal Diab, a 20-year-old literature student at Cairo University, interrupted Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif as he addressed the student body on campus Monday, kicking up a media storm.
“We want you to release those detained on April 6. Mr. President those are the people you were talking about who use the internet, those are the people who stood up and defended you when you were criticized at the World Economic Forum for saying Egypt is globalizing. Mr. President I want to tell you one thing, Education is zay el fol [perfect] the university is zay el fol, there is bread, there is democracy and freedom, release Egypt Mr. President, release Egypt Mr. President! he said as students clapped passionately.
“I was provoked [by Nazif’s speech], Diab told Daily News Egypt. “How can he talk about information technology, the internet and how the youth has to use it to express their opinions and get their voices out there when those who did exactly that are now all behind bars, he said, referring to students who created the Facebook group promoting the April 6 strike.
“I admit that I was out of order but I had to get my voice out there, officials have to start listening to us instead of detaining us, he said.
When Diab had completed his outburst, Nazif had turned to him and said, “I feel sarcasm and pain in your words, but I’m telling you Egypt is alright and you have to look at everything with objectivity because there are many challenges facing this country.
“There objective reason for detaining these people is the acts of destruction they committed and there is a thin line between expressing your opinion and encouraging destruction, striking and rioting. Many want such chaos in this country but we won’t let this happen. Egypt is not a chaotic country, continued the Prime Minister.
Diab, however, insists that he wasn’t wasn’t being sarcastic. “I was speaking passionately and my tone was serious. As for the sarcasm he was talking about who is really being sarcastic in this country, is his cabinet . those telling people that everything is fine and we are progressing, he said.
The incident led to an abrupt halt of the lecture. Neither the Minister of Higher Education, Hany Helal, nor the President of Cairo University, Ali Abdel Rahman, gave their scheduled speeches.
As soon as Diab had ended his impassioned speech, two security guards sat behind him, but when the lecture was over and they tried to grab him they were prevented from doing so by the crowd, which saluted him for having “the guts to speak openly.
But soon enough, the same security guards, accompanied this time by a police officer and a university professor, caught up with him. The professor asked for Diab s university ID. It was then that the guards took hold of him in front of the crowd and escourted him to the office of the head of the university’s security.
“They did that in public to set an example to all students that this is what happens if you object or express your opinion, said Diab.
When Diab s friends saw what had taken place, they and others who had witnessed the event exchanged text messages on their mobile phones and congregated around the security office and successfuly demanded his release.
Diab’s friends, who are not politically active, suggested he spend the night away from home and that his mother and sisters stay over with relatives.
Diab believes that the way the government chooses to deal with political activists will only lead to “extremism and terrorism .
His message to Nazif is, “Just as we all supported you when you were criticized internationally, stand beside us now and release the students.
A number of students at Cairo University told Daily News Egypt that when any government official visits the university it is always kept confidential to keep students from attending.
“The date of any official visit is always kept confidential . Sometimes only 20 students would attend a lecture by a minister, Mostafa Mahmoud, a student at Cairo University told Daily News Egypt.
Diab himself only learned of the lecture through a friend at 11:30 pm the day before.
“I was initially planning to stop the Prime Minister as he was coming out of the new library [which he was inaugurating] and hand him a sheet of paper saying ‘Free the students detained on April 6’ but I wasn’t able to reach him at all. That’s when I decided to attend the lecture, said Diab.
However, it wasn’t easy getting there. The university’s security guards initially tried to stop him as he attempted to enter because they recognized him and know of his political activities.
Diab is a member of the Liberal Student Union, which is not recognized inside the university. Their activities include the “My Right movement, which they started at the beginning of the current academic year, and includes members of all active political parties in the university, like the Karama Party and the Socialist Party, but does not include those affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The movement calls for students’ right to free education. They organized a march inside the university campus on April 6 and a sit-in in front of the university President’s office to protest against tuition fees and hikes in book prices. Although the President agreed to their demands, no action was taken.
Diab is also a member of Al Ghad Party. The jailed founder of Al Ghad Ayman Nour, is one of his role models.