Egypt: Security intrusions inside the university risk revolution

Mohamed Abul Ghar
Sunday 14 Feb 2016

As well as harming the country and the president, and undermining Egypt’s progress, security intrusions may ignite a new revolutionary wave inside universities

I wrote earlier about security intrusions that can damage the country as well as the president. I also wrote about an assistant professor at the Faculty of Arts at Cairo University who is preparing her PhD at a university in Europe, while security agencies sent a letter to the university requesting that she be sent back and her studies terminated.

I watched on YouTube a phone-in by the president of Cairo University to Gaber El-Armouti’s programme where he read out my article. In the phone call, the university president said it is nothing to do with the university, adding that there may be security reasons relating to the state's higher interests. He also said that anyone can be wrong, even the security agencies.

Here are the facts of the matter:

1. The board of the Faculty of Arts at Cairo University and the university board and president (through his deputy) approved a personal grant given to Kholoud Saber, assistant professor in the faculty, to earn a doctorate degree in psychology from the University of Leuven in Belgium. The university board agreed on 12 August to grant her study leave with payment, and paid an airline ticket. She filled in four copies of forms to security agencies and left.

2. The chairman of the department called her a few months later and sent her a letter asking her to return, because security agencies did not grant approval. Some professors called the university president asking him to intervene and he promised to help resolve the issue.

3. As well as the university’s approval, the law clearly makes a distinction between academic missions funded by the state — which require the approval of the Executive Committee of Missions at the Ministry of Higher Education — and sabbaticals that are not funded by the state. Besides, the committee’s opinion is only advisory and not final.

This committee meets twice every academic year, and therefore recalling Saber has nothing to do with academic missions, but rather with security agencies intruding on the independence of the university and not wanting Saber to earn a doctorate from a reputable university (among the top 100 in the world) without funding from the state, even though she is the top of her class with honours.

This is only because Saber is a respectable person and leader who is popular with her colleagues and students, and refuses to follow directives from security agencies. She played a key role in standing up to the Muslim Brotherhood, out of patriotism and not because security agencies made her do it.

Security agencies do not want honourable, patriotic leaders to become members of university faculties, but instead want “kind people” who listen to orders or at least are not active. Ideally, they would be spies for security agencies, writing reports about their colleagues.

4. If security agencies have valid reasons for requesting Saber's return and the termination of her studies they should make them public and send them officially to the president of the university. If there is a threat to national security, they should tell us about it.

Egypt will not make any progress, nor be secure, nor will the regime grow in strength and popularity, without patriotic academic leaders in universities, active labour unions, student unions, and professional syndicates. That is when the people become the main support for the regime, instead of doing constant battle with security agencies. Security agencies must understand that their job is to protect Egypt, not destroy all that is good in the country.

Tension is building up and one month ago a petition was signed by dozens of university professors, whose numbers will grow by the hundreds at Cairo University, and others in support of Saber.

Why push the country to the precipice? Why undermine the president’s popularity unnecessarily? Why create a new problem for the president of Cairo University who is already burdened by hundreds of others?

To those in charge of security, either make public the rationale with documented evidence or withdraw your letter. We want justice and will not be silenced.

Stand up, Egyptians. Egypt is always calling on you.

The writer is head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.

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