CAIRO: A court has ruled that amendments made to an executive bylaw, which regulates university affairs and student activities, are unconstitutional.
The 1979 bylaw implements the 1972 Universities law, which has always been criticized for restricting students’ freedoms. Activists had said that the recent amendments made the bylaw even more restrictive.
The verdict, issued by the Mansoura Administrative Court on Feb. 15, 2009, will now be reviewed by the Supreme Constitutional Court – a process which could take between two to three years.
It potentially has far-reaching consequences: If the Supreme Constitutional Court upholds the verdict, a new bylaw will have to be drafted.
The case was brought by Mohamed Hamama, a third-year dentistry student at Mansoura University, after the university s student affairs body refused the nomination papers he submitted during student elections last year.
Hamama was told that he could not stand in the elections because he had not paid in full his tuition fees and not previously been active in any of the student union committees – two new conditions introduced by the amendments made to the executive bylaw in 2007.
Emad Mubarak, head of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) – which brought the case – told reporters during a press conference held yesterday at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center that the amendments made to the 1979 executive bylaw constitute a retrograde step.
There was controversy and confusion about the amendments from the start: they weren t revealed to the press while in draft form and when they were eventually introduced we discovered that they violate students rights even further than the extremely [restrictive] 1979 bylaw, Mubarak said.
In a report on the executive bylaw amendments issued last year AFTE says that the 1979 bylaw has led to the Student Unions being “a fiction, formed according to the wishes of the university administration and security bodies.
The case brought by AFTE states that the executive bylaw is unconstitutional in terms of both form and substance.
It contends that the executive bylaw amendments exceed the powers afforded to the executive branch because they alter the content of the 1972 Universities Law – rather than simply implementing its provisions – through the addition of requirements that students must pay their tuition fees in full before they can stand for election, and that they have previously been active within the student union.
The 1972 Universities Law does not mention anything about matters concerning the Student Union or election of its members or council, AFTE says in its submission to the court.
Hamama pointed out during the press conference that the requirement that students pay tuition fees (which can reach as much as LE 700) in full at the start of the academic year is a particularly onerous condition, and that two-thirds of the student body are automatically excluded by it.
AFTE say that the requirement constitutes discrimination on economic grounds, and a violation of the constitutional guarantee of equal opportunity.
The NGO criticizes the absurd requirement of previous activity in a student union body on the basis that it leads to the Catch-22 situation of barring students from the union unless they fulfill a condition which can only be met via their admission to it.
AFTE points out that the requirement effectively bars first-year students from activity within the student union.
Both students and teaching staff in Egyptian public universities say that security bodies constantly interfere in all areas of university life, including academic affairs and student elections.
Hamama alleges that elections in Mansoura University are “fixed, and that security bodies remove the names of candidates who they have not approved.
Experiences such as these have prompted the Haqqy (My Right) student movement to organize shadow elections to a “free union alongside those of the formal Student Union.
Hamama told the press conference that students involved in the free union elections in Mansoura University were attacked on campus last year by thugs.
The Mansoura Administrative Court s decision is the latest in the ongoing battle over university freedoms.
Last November, opponents of the presence of Interior Ministry security forces on campus celebrated the administrative court verdict which ruled that their presence is unconstitutional.
The verdict was overturned by the Supreme Administrative Court in February of this year.
Hamama says that he will attempt to stand for election next year, but is “not hopeful about the chances of his nomination papers being accepted.