Cabinet approves draft law to replace university heads as sit-in continues

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By Heba Fahmy

CAIRO: Egypt’s Cabinet approved Sunday a draft law that would end the tenure of leadership figures at universities starting August, following nationwide on-campus sit-ins held by professors demanding that university presidents and faculty deans appointed by the former regime be sacked.

Incumbent presidents and deans are to continue in their posts until the beginning of August, according to the draft law, which is up for final approval by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

Minister of Higher Education Amr Salama will be responsible for setting the criteria and regulations governing the appointment of new university heads and faculty deans. These regulations must provide equal opportunities for all applicants and guarantee that the position is assigned to the most competent candidate, according to the draft.

However, spokesman of the coalition of faculty members at Egyptian public universities, Khaled Samir said professors will continue their sit-in, which started on Sunday.

“Not all the Cabinet’s bills are approved by SCAF,” Samir said.

Professors reject any interference from Salama in assigning the new university and faculty heads, he said, accusing the minister of being a prominent member of the former regime.

“There’s a counter revolution inside our own Cabinet,” Samir said, referring to Salama. “We will approve any system in electing the news heads of our universities as long as it’s democratic and guarantees that the government will not interfere in elections,” he added.

University professors began Sunday a nationwide sit-in, demanding the resignation of Salama along with university presidents and faculty deans affiliated with the former regime.

Professors also demanded free and fair elections to choose the new heads of universities and deans, the increase of the state’s education and scientific research budget to 3.5 percent of the national budget and raising wages of assistant professors while setting a reasonable maximum wage for university presidents.

Samir said that Egypt spends less than one percent of its national income on scientific research, which hinders the nation’s development.

“We will hold the sit-in everyday from 11am to 4 pm until our demands are met,” Samir said.

He added that the sit-in will be moved to Cabinet headquarters’ or the headquarters of SCAF if demands continue to be ignored.

The sit-in was held at universities around Egypt, including Cairo, Ain Shams, Alexandria, Fayoum and Tanta.

Professors had several discussions with Cabinet officials following the Jan. 25 Revolution regarding their demands.

In May, the higher education ministry proposed that an elected committee, including faculty, students and staff nominate three new university presidents. The ministry would then choose from the three nominees, according to Samir. But professors strongly rejected the proposal as a violation of their rights and true democracy.

“This proposal was a sham and an attempt to fool and silence us,” Samir said.

On Saturday the coalition of faculty members at Egyptian public universities issued a statement saying that electing new university leaders was the only way to guarantee academic freedom, where university administrations represent professors and students, not the regime.

“We want true reform, not cosmetic reform … those who caused corruption can’t start reform,” the statement read, referring to the current heads of universities who it said implemented the agenda of the dismantled State Security Investigations (SSI) apparatus, restricting freedom of expression.

“Any professor who had any political activity or opposed the regime was prevented from reaching the people or receiving university benefits including traveling for research or attending conferences,” Samir said.

The coalition first announced the sit-in on its Facebook page on June 20.

It was established following the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak after an 18-day popular revolt that started on Jan. 25. Its goal is to lobby for university professors’ demands and rights, and consists of seven independent movements including the March 9 Movement which calls for the independence of universities.


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