Egypt’s scholars angry, but are demands reasonable?

Reem Leila , Saturday 7 Sep 2019

Cairo University (Al-Ahram)
Cairo University (Al-Ahram)

Egypt’s Scholars are Angry, a Facebook campaign launched by university teachers across Egypt, is calling for salary and pension increases that reflect the increased cost of living.

The campaign has so far garnered 60,000 followers on social media.

“University staff have the right to lead a decent life,” says Ahmed Zayed, a former dean of the Faculty of Arts at Cairo University. “And what I am talking about is a reasonable existence, not a luxurious one. We need fair salaries to cope with the soaring prices.”

University teachers are paid between LE3,000 and LE10,000 a month. As well as wanting these figures increased, the campaign advocates better healthcare and health insurance and pensions equivalent to at least 80 per cent of salaries. It wants to see a gradual increase in research budgets, for universities to contribute to the costs involved in publishing research papers abroad, and for increments to university teaching staff’s salaries and pensions to be calculated according to the formula used to determine increases in the salaries of judges.

Professors who are members in the Facebook group say they have not considered strike action. “Our aim is to press our demands peacefully,” said Zayed.

Egypt’s 24 public universities employ 122,577 teaching staff, from teaching assistants to emeritus professors. In 2012 an attempt was made to restructure their salaries but the process was never completed.

Cairo University President Mohamed Al-Khisht offers teaching staff an increase in bonuses when scientific research and academic papers are published abroad, but the extra payments are little more than a “sedative”, says Mahmoud Al-Kurdi, a professor of sociology at Cairo University.

“This is a temporary solution and only applies to Cairo University staff. What about other staff members across Egypt,” asks Al-Kurdi. “Radical change is needed, which means amending the 1972 law which currently regulates universities.”

Cairo University professor Hanaa Al-Gohari notes that Al-Khisht’s offer applies to “a limited group of professors”.

“Not all university professors can publish their research or academic papers abroad,” she says.

Al-Gohari also stresses that the campaign organisers “made it clear from the very beginning there is no place for political posts in the group” and the campaign is restricted to “bringing our demands to the concerned authorities”.

Amany Toulan, a professor at Ain Shams University, complains she has to subsidise her own research out of her salary.

“I spend around 25 per cent of my LE8,500 salary on my own research, though that figure has occasionally risen to LE5,000, especially when I’m working on research necessary to gain promotion,” said Toulan.

Medhat Al-Sherif, a member of the parliament’s Economic Committee, says the level of university teachers’ salaries is a long-running problem. During the last legislative term Al-Sherif suggested a new law be drafted to improve the conditions of university professors and doctors working for the Ministry of Health and promised to “raise the matter once again with the Economic Committee in an attempt to find a solution”.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 September, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly  under the title: Reasonable demands?

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