Egypt's Nile University students to resume sit-in till govt gives back their campus

Yasmine Wali, Wednesday 29 Aug 2012

Prominent Egyptian chemist Ahmed Zewail bans NU students from using any of their campus buildings after the government granted NU land to Zewail City for Science and Technology (ZCST)

Nile University
Abdul Aziz Hegazy, Head of Board of Trustees, speaks to NU students, parents and faculty members on Wednesday (Photo: Yasmine Wali)

Around sixty Nile University (NU) students, along with their professors, enter their second day sit-in on Wednesday, on their banned campus. Since then, Abdel Aziz Hegazy, former prime minister and head of board of trustees of the university, has threatened to use force to end the sit-in after promising a solution.

The prominent Egyptian chemist and Nobel laureate, Ahmed Zewail, banned NU students from using any of the buildings on campus after the government granted his Zewail City for Science and Technology (ZCST) all NU land in the wake of the 25 January uprising.

Although Zewail's permit allows him to use the university buildings in the presence of students, he has prevented them from using the campus premises and facilities.

Earlier on Wednesday, after a meeting with Sherif Sedky, the provost of ZCST, Hegazy promised students and their parents as well as faculty staff in the sit-in that they would be able to start the semester on their new campus not later than 15 September.

"You need to respect the elderly, we were discussing various solutions in the meeting to protect the rights of NU and Dr Sherif Sedky will report to Zewail and then make an appointment for us to resolve the issue," the Head of Board of trustees stated earlier in the day.

Students in turn gave Hegazy a round of applause for conceding their rights to a campus.

However, some students were furious in response; they interrupted Hegazy, telling him that they needed an action plan, not meetings. Students agreed that they would discuss what he proposed among themselves and come up with a statement to give Hegazy.

Shortly thereafter, Hegazy spoke to the students again in a sharp tone and threatened to use "force" to break up the sit-in if they did not leave.

The mother of Ahmed Kamar, an engineering student, responded angrily, "Why do they want our children to emigrate from the country? We can send them abroad, why do you want that? We heard too many promises, now we want action."

For his part, Ibrahim Badran, the Head of the Scientific Institute, said, "We will do something, God willing. You are embarrassing us with the other party."

Hegazy and Badran urged the students to cooperate, ensuring that they will obtain their rights for them.

"We are not labourers; you have to break up the sit in. You are students and researchers, it is not appropriate to end up with six security vans outside the campus," the head of board of trustees added.

However, students were determined to resume the sit-in until they achieve their right to using the campus; they have no faith in what might happen if they leave.

Ahmed Nassar, the head of the NU student union, having visited the hospital for an inflamed colon, said, "We've set up tents and will continue with the sit-in until our demands are met.

He went on: "For two years we have not been able to enter our laboratories and workshops; it is my fourth year at university. They send us away from the university to use the labs of Ain Shams and Madinet Mubarak universities when no one is using the labs; only rats are running around."

NU students persist in their demands after being betrayed by the previous governments of former prime ministers Ahmed Shafiq and Essam Sharaf.

Students and faculty members are especially angry because Zewail's entity is as yet "in the air; there is no curriculum, no staff, no departments, no schools – and yet we are forced to be outside the campus while nobody is benefiting from it. Zewail has only a permit us to use the buildings, not to ban us from entering. He doesn't even have a license to ZCST, it is not legally recognized," said computer engineering professor Mahmoud Allam.

"We are forced to continue their education in their temporarily space in the Smart Village [for businesses and corporations], they take physics lab in the garage while other labs are outsourced in distant universities."

Alaa and Dina from Business and Engineering majors added, "We were hesitant to take this step, because it's our last resort; we have no more doors to knock or anything to do, we staged over ten protests downtown.

"This is the first time we come and stage a sit-in in the campus that we have been banned from entering, but we need media coverage, that is the only way the President [Mohamed Morsi] will take an action."

Charles, in the second year of his engineering degree, agreed; he was drenched in sunblock to protect his skin from the heat.

The NU was originally registered as the first private, non-profit Egyptian university, while other higher education institutions in Egypt are either owned by the state or are privately managed as profit-making institutions.

The university was established in 2006 by a presidential decree issued under the private universities law, the only legal framework available at the time.

Only in 2009 was a law passed allowing the establishment of civil universities. The law was approved in January 2011 by the Supreme Council of Civil and Private Universities, whose approval was supposed to be seconded by former president Hosni Mubarak when the 2011 revolution blew up.

Since former prime minister Ahmed Nazif was also arrested on corruption charges after the uprising, the land he had originally reserved for NU's permanent campus was instead allocated to the project of Zewail. This happened in January 2011, upon the decision of the Head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) Hussein Tantawi, the then de-facto ruler of Egypt.

Professor Ahmed El-Deif, one of the presidential election team members in Morsi's campaign and among the NU faculty, said, "I am optimistic since the president acknowledges the NU problem and will solve it in a timely manner. We now have a political coverage and this sit-in is pushing it ahead."

Tag El-Din Mohamed, a third-year engineering student, concluded, "We will not accept the prposed solutions because we are in the right; we will stay, defending our rights."

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