University students expected to resume protests next week

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CAIRO: Following a respite during the Eid Al-Adha holiday, protests that have swept university campuses across the country are expected to resume early next week as students reiterate their demands for reform.

Since last February, when a popular uprising ousted Hosni Mubarak from power, students — sometimes joined by their professors — have been staging protests against corruption, lack of proper educational facilities and the institutions’ leaders, who they say were handpicked by the Mubarak regime.

In turn, the government repeatedly promised to allow elections of university deans and presidents. While this has not happened in all universities, elections brought fresh faces to some campuses while seeing the return of old leaders in others.

Students’ frustrations against maintaining the pre-Jan. 25 status quo has materialized into different protest actions and demands, spanning several private and public universities.

On Thursday, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) called upon the administration at the German University in Cairo to respect the will of the students in choosing the bylaw and their right to protest peacefully without intimidation and threats.

The university administration postponed the resumption of the academic year from Nov. 12 to Nov. 18, following a call by students to protest on Nov. 14. Students were planning to protest the administration’s rejection of their proposed bylaws. According to ANHRI, the administration called parents and threatened disciplinary action against their children.

At least a dozen students were expelled last March for protesting.

Al-Azhar students who also demonstrated to call for the head of the university to step down, are to resume their protests starting next week. They suspended the sit-in, which was attacked last week, after meeting with Azhar Grand Imam and former university president Sheikh Ahmad El-Tayeb. He promised students of the highest seat of Sunni learning that their demands would be headed.

GUC and Al-Azhar students are not alone.

Students of the privately-owned Modern Science and Arts (MSA) University were locked inside campus last month for boycotting classes. They organized a sit-in to protest high tuition fees coupled with lack of administrative transparency and poor educational facilities.

According to the students, their demands had been on the table for seven months, and they only organized the sit-in after losing hope that they would be met.

Their demands include forming a student senate, giving more authority to the student union, and drafting a university constitution in addition to replacing part-timers with full-time faculty in hope of bettering the quality of education.

Students said “thugs” led by campus security attacked them. Two students were hospitalized as a result. “The two students, who wanted to file a complaint against security, instead found a report against them” saying that they were the attackers not the victims, wrote activist Mostafa Sheshtawy on his blog.

Despite the crackdown, students are planning on collecting signatures on a petition against the university’s administration to be submitted to the Council of Higher Education, demanding support.

In late October in the Nile Delta region, Mansoura University students and professors in the Faculty of Arts staged a three-day sit-in for three consecutive days demanding the dismissal of the dean.

Students also said the university president was affiliated with the Mubarak regime that planted police and state security agents on campuses, despite court verdicts outlawing their presence.

University deans and presidents have been the main focus of student protests. A decree introduced elections, instead of direct appointment, in response to pressure. Incumbent university leaders were asked to resign to allow for electing their predecessors, but some refused.

This led to a wave of protests with the start of the academic year in September on campuses whose appointed presidents refused to step down until their terms ended.

Students at Ain Shams University staged several sit-ins in front of Saffron Palace to demand the departure of University President Dr. Maged Al-Deeb, who finally ceded in early October.

Similar protests were reported in Kafr El-Sheikh, Menoufia and Alexandria as well as in Al-Azhar’s Assiut branch.

At the heart of the protests is the issue of academic independence. In mid-September student unions of 20 public universities protested in support of professors calling for academic independence, which followed a nationwide protest by some 5,000 university professors and teaching staff on Sept. 11.

“We are free students … the administration has lost legitimacy,” chanted the members of the Student Union at Cairo University. They also chanted in favor of allowing the practice of politics and activism on campus.

Despite the fact that these election results saw the rise of new popular deans with visions of reform as well as those previously affiliated with the NDP, fighting off fierce competition from opponents, students in other universities were satisfied since new leaders were chosen through elections, not appointments.

Meanwhile students at private universities who witnesses unprecedented protests — such as GUC, MSA, Misr International University, Ahram Canadian University and the Arab Academy for Science Technology and Maritime Transport (AASTMT) — are still calling or waiting for their demands to be met.

The American University in Cairo is probably the only exception. Protests combined student aspiration for a bigger say in university decisions with workers’ demands for better wages and work conditions. The sit-ins managed to get concessions from the administration at the start of this academic year.


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