Hundreds of American University in Cairo (AUC) students have entered their 4th day of protests demanding lower fees and higher wages for on-campus workers and security personnel, who joined their protests. Many of the campus walls and entrances are covered with banners in support of the strike.
The banners read “Strike”, “Our rights”, “2,000 minimum wage” and “No to 9% increase”.
Monica El-Wazzan, a student participating in the demonstrations and sit-in, says, “I am participating because the fees increased by 9 percent without any benefits in return: nothing has improved.
"I was also informed that the workers here are paid very little and considering that they collect such high fees it is unfair that those who clean our campus are paid such low salaries”.
Yet the three groups have different demands.
The workers want higher wages, the security demand a minimum wage of LE2,000 while the students are protesting the 9 percent increase in tuition fees.
However, all three chant “One hand” in unison. One of the students holding up the microphone said, “What makes our movement successful is that all the groups stand united and support each others’ demands”.
The students, workers and security guards assembled in front of the Humanities and Social Science (HUSS) Building at 12:30 PM repeating chants “Our university is a university of thieves” and “One hand”.
After being informed by email that university president Lisa Anderson would hold an open forum in the Bassily Hall, they marched towards it. However, as they approached the hall where the meeting was to take place, some students objected and attempted to stop the students from entering.
When asked why, Tarek Hayman said, “The hall takes a maximum of 1,200 while there are about 4,300 people in the strike. We want her to talk to all of us in front of the HUSS building – where the sit-in is held”.
Responding to these objections, students marched back to the HUSS building chanting “Whoever wants to talk to, let them come to the HUSS”. The students set up a stage on which Anderson could hold the forum. However, Anderson and several other members of the administration went ahead and held the meeting at the Bassily Hall.
For her part Anderson said, “We need a forum like that to hear the problems of all those who have complaints at the university and not just the ones who are demonstrating.”
However, students who refused to engage in the forum say Anderson has already turned down all their demands in the email she sent.
In her email Anderson made it clear that there will be no increase in wages and that the university, under the current circumstances, cannot contract temporary workers. Regarding the demand to remove the 9 percent increase in student fees, Anderson stated, “Any continuing student not able to fund his or her tuition will be provided with assistance sufficient to permit him or her to complete his or her degree. This is thanks to the larger pool of financial aid, which is about $26 million, including a recent million-dollar gift earmarked for this purpose. There are still ample funds available and all students requiring assistance should apply. As explained in earlier messages, the University is not able to cancel the increase”.
In the forum, however, Anderson added that the AUC will make sure all complaints are responded to, even if not met, in an appropriate time and manner. She said that “people should know what to expect and when to expect them”. Still, many felt her promise to be more transparent as to why demands are not being was not sufficient. A student who attended the forum said that she expects the increase in fees will be reflected in the quality of educational service offered. She complained that students are added to waiting lists in order to be able to attend a course, since courses are so busy and staff members too few in comparison to students. In addition, classes are usually overcrowded, she added.
While staff members have not joined the strike, one staff member warned Anderson in the forum that if the staff’s own working conditions do not improve soon they will probably have to resort to striking. Confirming what was said, a security guard stated that they had already sent their complaints and demands a month earlier but received no response.
Students, workers and security guards insist on their demands and the president also insists on her refusal, arguing that AUC is doing the best it can and promising a detailed explanation of such circumstances in the future.
Anderson sent out an email in response to the students’ request that they are not to be held accountable for their absence during the protests saying, “All members of the AUC community, including students, are accountable for their actions and the associated consequences. Students who elect to miss class do so of their own volition and fully knowing the associated consequences”.
Tensions between students the president seem to be escalating. The students also put up banners with Anderson’s statement describing demonstrators as “rude, unruly and irresponsible”. Commenting on Anderson’s description, Yousef Mohamed said, “It is disrespectful of a university president to say that about her students”.