German University students battle administration on freedom of expression

Nada El-Kouny , Tuesday 13 Mar 2012

As a German University in Cairo sit-in enters its third week, students increase pressure to win freedom of political expression and organising on campus; protesters take case to court

Academy of New Cairo students support GUC students (Photo: Nada El-Kouny)

A student protest against the university administration at the German University in Cairo has entered its third week.

The sit-in was initially launched to protest the expulsion of two students and the suspension of two other students and a teaching assistant following a demonstration and the screening of an anti-regime film.

The film by the Kazeboon (Liars) initiative documented violations committed by Egypt's security forces since the ousting of Mubarak.

GUC students screened the film at a protest on 18 February in response to the killing of GUC student Karim Khouzam at the Port Said football massacre on 1 February which claimed the lives of over 70 Egyptians, and was widely blamed on the ruling military council and police negligence.

University administrators had warned that the planned protest should be silent, but students nevertheless chose to shout chants against Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). 

Karim Naguib, a 19-year-old engineering student and close friend of Khouzam, told Ahram Online how he had attempted to hang the friend's picture on the university’s walls, but was not allowed by the administration.

At the current protest, which is taking place outside the main entrance to the university, a number of students are staging a sit-in, having set up tents and hung up a collection of different banners.

The largest banner lists the main demands of the protesters, including the return of the expelled students, an elected student union to replace the current appointed one, and a referendum on the student union’s constitution.

Another banner includes pictures of the university’s lawyer, Shawky El-Sayed, who was a former National Democratic Party member and an appointed MP in 2010. He was also involved in the famous Talaat Mustafa Group corruption case, when the real estate conglomerate was charged for the illegal purchase of land.

"It is important for each one of us in society to work in our own micro environments…and try as much as possible to make a difference within that environment," Naguib said. "We hope that attempts are being made by other sectors of society to work towards the revolution’s goals."

The first hearing for the case filed against the university by the expelled students was held on Sunday, but has been postponed to 18 March.

Hassan Osman, one of the expelled students who was due to graduate this year, stated that they have the support of five lawyers defending their case, who were appointed by the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression.

Osman stated that he is accused of vandalism, putting other students' lives in danger, and the obstruction of the academic process.

He clarified that main charges filed by the students against the university have to do with the illegal way the investigations were carried out.

"We were not presented with an official letter but instead were informed over the telephone that we were to be investigated," stated Osman.

Additionally, a university student charter, which students called for in March 2011, was not in place to outline the procedures to be taken against students who violate school rules. Yet at the court hearing, the university presented the charter as if it had in fact been in place.

"This is one part of a larger struggle that we have been fighting for over the past couple of years, mainly having to do with democratisation within the university," Osman clarified. A key demand is for the creation of an independent and elected student union, which can put in place its own student charter, as opposed to an appointed body of students selected by the administration.

Ahmed Aggour, a GUC alumnus, does not believe that the main struggle to be fought is in the courts.

"We do not trust the judiciary, which is largely corrupt and complacent…we cannot depend on it to re-instate our rights."

Abdelhamid Mekkawy, a third year engineering student and one of the suspended students, believes that media pressure has been more effective. He asserted that this is what will give them a great chance of success.

"Public opinion has been in our favour, and we have made the university administration look really bad," Mekkawy stated.

"The other point of strength for our movement is that it is not only about our demands, but about those of all students in Egyptian universities.”

Students at GUC have been able to mobilise others from a number of different universities, including the British University in Egypt, the New Cairo Academy, Cairo University, the American University in Cairo and Ain Shams University.

Two hundred and fifty students from the New Cairo Academy marched from their neighbouring campus to GUC on Tuesday in support of the protest.

"The only hope left now in the revolution is the students’ strength," said Mekkawy.

Though the GUC is a private university with a few thousand students, physically isolated on the outskirts of the city, the students' struggle has, nevertheless, gained the support of many noted public figures, such as MP Zeyad El-Eleimy and activists Alaa Abdel Fattah and Asmaa Mahfouz.

Islamist presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh has visited the campus and spent a few minutes speaking to the students while sitting on the ground with them, next to the makeshift tents.

Presidential candidates Bothaina Kamel and Khaled Aly have also visited the university and showed their support for the students.

The GUC movement has also garnered support from the Egyptian expatriate community, and a protest was held in New York outside the German Consulate. Additionally, a number of students in German universities have also sent letters of solidarity to the students.

Despite the postponement of the court's ruling, Osman believes that the university has changed its tone, and the students at the protest are hopeful of a promising outcome to the case. "The university administration is caving in," asserted Osman.


Video of the strike by Simon Hanna:

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