Student Union of Egyptian Universities holds first elections since 70s

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CAIRO: For the first time in decades, the executive office for the Student Union for Egyptian Universities was elected, with the participation of public and private universities from across the country.

The executive office includes seven members, five from public universities and two from private universities.

The five seats for public universities went to Ain Shams University, Alexandria University, Banha University, Kafr El-Sheikh University and University of Minya.

The seats for the private universities went to the American University in Cairo and the French University in Egypt.

Upon the announcement of the election results, members of the newly-elected executive office along with other students headed to the Israeli Embassy to join the protest there.

"We strongly condemn what happened and we decided the first thing we do as the executive office is to go show solidarity with the people and express our opinion," said Mohamed El Dabea’, member of the executive office representing Alexandria University.

The elections took place Saturday afternoon at Ain Shams University, it followed the Student Union of Egyptian Universities conference at the American University in Cairo, which featured former Student Union idols-turned politicians Hamdeen Sabahy, Abdel Meniem Aboul Fotouh and Essam Sultan.

In the opening statement of the conference, students called for withdrawing the Egyptian ambassador to Israel as a response to the killing of Egyptian policemen on the eastern border.

Aboul Fotouh disapproved. “Where is the power and revolutionary spirit and bravery of the youth? I was expecting you to say in your statement that you’re calling for the cancellation of the Camp David Accords not simply recalling the ambassador,” he said.

Even though, two of the speakers were presidential hopefuls, the organizers said and the speakers confirmed that they are present as former leaders of student unions and not as presidential candidates – in a bid to maintain the independent nature of the student body.

Aboul Fotouh had succeeded Sabahy as president of the Student Union of Egyptian Universities back in the 1970s.

“[Late president Anwar] Sadat has permitted us to openly oppose him,” said Sabahy.

Aboul Fotouh recounted the incident that was his claim to fame as a student: objecting to Sadat during a conference which led to an altercation with the late president. “Stand properly, you are talking to the president of the republic,” said Sadat as he rebuked a young Aboul-Fotouh.

The following day, he met with Sadat and apologized. “There were rumors that we were detained and tortured, but none of these things ever happened,” said Aboul Fotouh.

Sabahy’s main advice for the students was to have a democratic bylaw to outline the union’s objectives, duties, powers and elections. “In 1976 when I was president of the Student Union for Egyptian Universities we had a bylaw that you could adjust to your needs,” he said.

Their bylaw was issued at the time with a presidential decree that was signed by then-vice-president Hosni Mubarak as Sadat was out of the country. It was cancelled along with the union in 1979.

Sabahy also advised them to get the authorities to officially approve the bylaw. Aboul Fotouh said that they have to make it a law not a presidential decree, so as not to give the president the power to cancel or enforce it.

“You are an influential body that has to contribute in the building of Egypt’s future. You have a duty to be the voice of student issues, such as syllabi, education, and development even for the dormitories,” Aboul Fotouh told the students.

The students said their objectives for the upcoming period is to have all political powers recognize them, and push for their bylaw to be approved as a law by the legislative bodies.

Internally, they will be working on the inner structure of the union and the job description for each member, explained El Dabea’.

Addressing students from all governorates, Aboul Fotouh said their priority at the time being should be to “save the revolution.”

“The revolution has started to succeed; it did not succeed yet. We got rid of the head but the hands and legs are still there,” he said.

“You have to be ready just like on January 25 to go on million-man marches and give your life to the country so we won’t go back to square one.”

“You are crucial in transforming Egypt into a free country,” Abouel Fottouh added, as he explained that the Student Union for Egyptian Universities is the best body that can represent Egypt, as the students come from different backgrounds and places, and, most importantly, “are still pure.”

Deputy Head of Al-Wasat Party Essam Sultan, who was also a former student union leader, said, “We are embarking on a new era, we went through battles that you will not go through after January 25. There are no oppressive authorities to curb you now because the power is to the people.”

“You have to focus on building, development and accomplishing goals,” he told the students.

His main advise to the students is to “know the law, know your right.” When he was elected president of the student union, all his project were initially rejected on the pretext of being “not according to the law”. After studying the law, he said, he was able to defend his projects.

The conference and elections were on the final day of a three-day workshop for representatives of student unions from the different public and private universities.



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