AFTE blames government policy for university tension

AbdelHalim H. AbdAllah
4 Min Read
Student supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim brotherhood clash with Egyptian security forces outside al-Azhar university in Cairo on October 28, 2013. Egyptian security forces fired tear gas to disperse students protesting in support of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, security officials said. (AFP PHOTO/KHALED KAMEL)
Student supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim brotherhood clashed with security forces outside their university on 28 October (AFP File Photo)
Student supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim brotherhood clashed with security forces outside their university on 28 October,2013
(AFP File Photo)

The Student Observatory of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) released a report Monday  attributing a spate recent human rights violations on university campuses to bad policies issued by the cabinet, Ministry of Interior, and the Supreme Council of Universities.

Under former interim prime minister Hazem El-Beblawi, the government issued a decree on 31 October allowing security forces to be present near university premises, and granted university chairmen the right to ask security  to step in order to “protect lives and educational facilities”, according to the report.  On 21 November, the government gave security forces the right to storm universities without notification or prior permit, under the same claim.

These decisions allowed the Ministry of Interior to interfere with university matters for the first time since the 25 January Revolution. AFTE Student Observatory documented 36 cases where security forces stormed onto campuses, using “arbitrary excessive force”, firing birdshot into crowds,  and arresting students and faculty members.  During these clashes, at least 10 were killed and 1,328 were detained on or near campus. One faculty member was forced to defend his master’s thesis while in prison.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Council of Universities (SCU) issued a number of decisions that had a negative impact on the students’ academic rights and freedoms. Among these was a 24 October decision to ban protesting on campus without university approval, and limiting student meetings. If students did not comply, they could be suspended.

After the cabinet declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation on 25 December, the SCU issued a decision banning any activity related to the organization on campus, AFTE reported.

The SCE in February banned electoral campaigns on campus and granted university chairmen the authority to suspend students for destroying educational facilities, disrupting the examination process, or inciting violence, according to the report. Since the policy was implemented, at Al-Azhar University alone, at least 200 students have been suspended.

The AFTE Student Observatory blamed the policies for the tense situation inside universities, which they said threatens the lives, careers and academic integrity of the educational facilities, as well as limiting students’ freedoms.

To resolve this tension, the AFTE Student Observatory proposed 13 recommendations to ease the tension. First and foremost, the organisation called  on the authorities to release all detained students and faculty members. If students cannot be released, AFTE Student Observatory, which has documented several cases of torture and inadequate medical care in detention facilities, requested detainees be treated humanely and be allowed to take their examinations.

AFTE also recommended that the government allocate more funding for university security and provide better training.  Security forces should cease storming onto campuses, it concluded, and asked for a transparent investigation into student deaths. It also requested officials review student suspensions and cancel Article 184, which allows university chairmen to suspend students.

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