Revolution restores student power to Egypt campuses

Mohamed Habib, Monday 14 Mar 2011

After decades of oppression, Egyptian university students are calling the shots on campuses around the country, demanding revolutionary reform

Cairo University students fill in their nomination papers for the student union elections

The 25 January revolution is creating new realities in Egypt’s institutions; universities are no exception. After decades where the state security had an upper hand in practically everything that concerned universities, students are now in charge.

In Cairo University, nominations for the student union elections started on Sunday and will end on Tuesday. Tens of students were eager to nominate themselves, assured for the first time in a great many years that elections will be transparent and free of the intervention of the state security.

The final list of the student union candidates will be announced on Sunday, 20 March. Elections will take place on 22 March and a re-run if required, is scheduled on 23 March.

The rest of the public universities will start the nominations for the elections consecutively.

In the nation's 20 public universities the 1.6 million students have the right to vote but there was always the problem of a poor turn-out of voters in which only half this number votes.

On 27 February, the Higher Council of Universities dissolved all student unions in all state universities that were conducted in October 2010. The council ordered that new elections have to be conducted no later than 60 days from the start of the second academic term.

In a press conference on Sunday, Minister of Higher Education Amr Salama, broke more good news. He said that an eight-member committee, including seven students and a faculty member, will supervise the whole election process, to follow transparency rules. No intervention by security or university administrators will foreshadow the elections.

Salama, also announced that any previous records eliminating students from nominating themselves are now considered null and void. He explained that all students can consider themselves having fresh white records with nothing political taken against them.

Students, mostly affiliated to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and leftists, were usually disqualified from the list of candidates for the student councils, allowing NDP-affiliated students, who were hand-picked by security bodies, to win the polls, in many cases uncontested.

University administrators had justified their actions saying that disqualified students did not meet nomination requirements, according to the student charter, of a "good reputation." The charter was drawn up in 1979 and ammended in 2007. This vague stipulation was widely used to shut out both leftist and Islamist applicants who participate in protests and other activities which could be construed by the university as trouble-making.

That is why Salama also said that he is currently studying with other faculty members the amendment or the complete changing of the Student Charter because “it hampers the democratic process”.

Hundreds of students, in Cairo University held massive strikes since 6 March and are ongoing until today, mainly demanded the sacking of university presidents that were appointed by former president Hosni Mubarak.

According the law regulating universities, the minister of higher education is mandated to nominate three individuals and then the final choice made by the president.

Unable to repeal the law for the time being, Salama is studying the possibility of allowing faculty members to choose the three individuals by elections, instead of him, and then leaving it to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces to take the final decision.

However, Salama said he will discuss with university professors ideas towrds the amendment of the law regulating universities, issued in 1971, or changing it altogether.

Cairo University, and the other public universities, are now without security personnel affiliated to the Interior Ministry. Universities formed their own civil security units which are affiliated to the university administration and which will be responsible for safeguarding the institute.

The Supreme Administrative Court on 23 October backed a previous ruling passed in 2008 by a lower administrative court ending the presence of Interior Ministry security personnel in Cairo University.

Cairo University had designated lecture rooms and buildings which would bear the names of the revolution martyrs. The headquarters of the Future Generation Society established in 2005, headed by Gamal Mubarak, the younger son of the ousted president, is no longer located on the campus.

As for the duration of the academic year, three or four weeks will be added in compensation lost after the mid-year recess due to the revolution. 

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