The nationwide general strike, which started Saturday and is planned to lead to a full-scale campaign of civil disobedience, did not gain momentum at Cairo University on its first day. Activists on Egypt's oldest campus remain optimistic, however, saying it is too early to determine the full extent of the student movement.
Saturday, 11 February, marked the first anniversary of the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak. Tens of revolutionary political groups sought to make the most of the occasion by calling for the beginning of a civil disobedience campaign on the date, in pursuit of their demands. But for many at Cairo University, it was more or less a normal day at college.
Apart from a march that consisted of around a couple of hundred, and a few activists who sprayed anti-military rule slogans on walls and the asphalt, the rest of the students seemed to have stuck to their habitual daily activities; attending classes, playing football or enjoying leisure time on campus.
Primarily organised by the Supreme Committee for Egypt's Students' Strike, a body that brings several student unions from different universities under its umbrella, the march toured the Cairo University campus back and forth while chanting against the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), cursing its figures and denouncing their “crimes.”
Under-fire SCAF head Field Marshal, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, expectedly got the lion's share of the angry chants, with protesters demanding an immediate end to his tenure as interim ruler. Chief of Staff Sami Anan, Central Military Zone head and SCAF member Hassan El-Roweini, and Commander of the Military Police Hamdi Badin were also lambasted.
Demonstrators condemned SCAF over the Port Said football massacre, which saw at least 74 spectators killed after a league match at the coastal city's main stadium between Masry and Ahly on 1 February.
They also deplored the notorious assault on a young veiled woman that was beaten viciously as her upper body was stripped to her undergarments by military police during the cabinet office clashes in December.
As protesters marched, other students tagged along, but their number remained in the area of 200, a figure that is deemed below expectations considering the hoopla that surrounded the students' movement. Although the demonstrating students only comprised a negligible percentage of Saturday's overall turnout, activists believe the civil disobedience campaign is on the right track.
“The number of protesters is not bad at all, given that today 75 per cent of the faculties are off,” said one of the march's organisers, Hossam Ahmed, a senior law student and member of the Revolutionary Socialists Movement, speaking to Ahram Online.
“Independent syndicates and labour movements have supported the students, and that will also push the whole campaign forward within the next few days … Needless to say, we are not going to stop until our demands are fulfilled, especially the handover of power to a civilian administration.”
While SCAF's departure from power is the primary demand on the street, other demands are widely listed, including the sacking of the prosecutor general, retribution against the killers of all “martyrs” and drafting the constitution only after the military council is no longer at the country's helm.
Anti-SCAF activists are convinced SCAF wants to remain in power until the constitution is drafted in order to keep unscathed its authorities, which critics believe are unfettered and allow the military body to control the nation's vital assets and, more importantly, make the army beyond criticism and legal accountability.
The April 6 Students, affiliated to the April 6 Youth Movement, said in handouts that were widely distributed at Cairo University: “The strike is the solution in order for power to be handed over to a president that shall be elected by this great people. It is not acceptable to be ruled by a council that was commissioned to rule by Hosni Mubarak.”
The Tahrir Movement said in other handouts: “We are urging the forces of the Egyptian people, students, workers, farmers and employees to participate in the civil disobedience.”
Students at other universities embarked on the strike starting Saturday as well. At Ain Shams University, east of Cairo, protesters hung black flags in mourning for the Port Said victims. Students also protested at Bani Suef University and Alexandria University, among others. The students' countrywide strike should last until Monday.