Towards a new political schooling in Egypt

Gamal Abdel-Gawad , Friday 1 Apr 2011

The absence of mid-aged political leaders in Egypt is a result of the banning of political activity on campus for three decades

Student union elections at universities are one of the best products of the 25 January Revolution. It doesn’t matter who won or lost in these elections, what is important is that students at Egyptian universities are finally able to contest free student elections, something they were barred from for many years.

There have not been free elections at Egyptian universities since 1978, because in 1979 elections came under harsh regulations that gave security agencies and the university administration absolute power over elections and student activities. More than 30 years of banning political activism at universities did not protect the regime or stability, but resulted in an inert society that dislikes and knows little about politics.

Political life at university was a breeding groundand training centre to teach hundreds of thousands of students the meaning of politics and make them interested in public discourse, their country and issues of state. Among these were leaders in politics and administration, writers, artists and intellectuals who have enriched our public life in all sectors.

Thirty years of an arid environment at universities denied Egyptian society its cultural character, knowledge and soul, but this did not save the political regime as some with a security mindset had imagined. Students in Egypt were banned from acquiring political skills and tools, so in their place grew anger and hatred for a political regime that was eventually forced to pay the price on 25 January.

Accumulated anger in the hearts of Egyptian youth was enough to overthrow the regime, and here we are today at a loss to find anyone qualified to build a new regime because of lack of skills and cadres.

We have remarkable youth in their 20s who were the fuel and masterminds of the revolution, and we have older people who are at least in their late 50s, but between the two groups there are very few distinguished leaders. This is the vacuum that cannot be explained except by looking at the three decades when political activism at universities was banished.

I will not focus on who won and who didn’t in these elections. I am more interested in knowing the number of candidates who contested the election, the percentage of voters, the type of campaigning that took place, the agendas of the elected student unions, and how our students will use the freedom that 25 January brought them and us.

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