First week in Egyptian Universities sees professors strike for reform

Nada Hussein Rashwan, Thursday 6 Oct 2011

With promised reforms failing to materialise in the higher education sector, professors and students start the first academic year since Mubarak's ouster with protests

Ain Shams
Ain Shams... (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

On Wednesday, Ain Shams University students and professors celebrated the resignations of Maged El-Deeb as the university’s president and most of the faculty deans, which were submitted yesterday to the minister of higher education. The submissions came after a partial strike by the university’s professors that started last Saturday, the first day of the school year.

Most universities in Egypt have witnessed movements from professors and students wishing to start the first school year since Mubarak's ouster with democratically elected presidents, to pave the way for reforms in the country’s higher education sector.

The situation in Ain Shams was the tensest as professors threatened to stage a total strike had El-Deeb not resigned. Students at the university announced that in solidarity with the professors they would be organising a parallel protest, after they staged a protest of around 2,500 students on Sunday.

In Alexandria University, the atmosphere was not as tense. “Although most of the professors agree that the head of the university and the faculty deans must be deposed, there is no consensus yet among professors on a total strike. Up till now, around 40-50 per cent of the professors are on strike, but the rest are covering up for their classes as much as possible. Some students have arranged protests in solidarity with the professors’ demands,” says Sherif El-Dakak, an assistant teacher in the Faculty of Engineering.

“So far, we have not received any kind of response from the administration. Professors are getting increasingly dissatisfied with the air of neglect on the part of the administration, which could lead to an escalation, but nothing has been agreed upon yet,” added El-Dakak.

Matters are at a more advanced stage at Cairo University where elections are planned for a new president after the resignation of its former president Hossam Kamel was finally approved by Egypt’s ruling military council. Kamel will run in the elections himself, along with 10 other contenders for the post.

Several faculties in Cairo University have undergone elections for the position of dean. Impressions on the elected deans are yet to be fully formed. In the Faculty of Law, the resigned dean Mahmoud Kobeish ran in the elections and won. Many law professors are known among the students for supporting the Mubarak regime. “Most alumni and professors in our faculty admire Fathy Sorour [former long-time head of the Egyptian parliament] as a law professor and feel sorry for his fate. Some of our professors are still defending ex-regime figures in their trials,” says Sherif Hashem, a student in the English section of the Faculty of Law. “Kobeish is generally not well-liked among students of the English section, but we’re considered a minority here compared to the Arabic section, where he has received great support from the students,” adds Mahmoud Gamal, another student in the English section of the faculty.

Protests have been taking place in the Faculty of Antiquities in Cairo University demanding that the dean of the faculty, Azza Farouk, who has not yet resigned, leave her position.

As for the elections of the president of Cairo University, time will reveal whether Hossam Kamel will find his way back into the chair.

The rest of the universities in Egypt’s governorates have also witnessed protests and partial strikes by professors demanding the heads resign. Universities in Assiut, Sohag and Ismailiya have been rocked by protests throughout the week.

The universities crisis developed over differences between university professors and the ruling military council over the academic elections after the Cabinet promised in the summer to remove all incumbent university heads who were appointed by the deposed regime with elections held to replace them. But, the ruling military council did not ratify the Cabinet's decision, prompting the government to shift course and ask university heads to voluntarily resign.

The 9 March Movement, an activist rank and file movement, announced in a press conference in September that professors will strike if the academic year begins with no decisions taken to remove university heads.

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