Marking 9 March
THE 9 MARCH Group for the Independence of Egypt's Universities marked its third anniversary on Saturday, amid assurances from its founders that the movement's objectives were gaining momentum despite setbacks.
The group was formed in 2004 with a mandate to press for the independence of Egypt's universities from daily security and government intervention, and rid academia of decades of corruption which, the group claims, has led to a severe decline in the level of education. It was only following their first demonstration in 2005, a few months after the Kifaya (Enough) movement staged the first public anti-Mubarak demonstration in central Cairo, that 9 March was taken seriously by the media.
The movement's name was taken from a famous event 75 years ago when Cairo University's first president, Lotfi El-Sayed, resigned on 9 March 1932 in protest at a ministerial decision to fire Egypt's leading intellectual and dean of the Faculty of Arts, Taha Hussein. El-Sayed's resignation was also designed to protest against government interference in the then largely independent Cairo University.
Egypt's universities rapidly lost their freedom following the 1952 revolution which strangled independent institutions and civil society with a series of laws that gave the government full control of their management.
Speaking at a conference on Saturday, Cairo University's political science professor and writer, Hassan Nafaa, said the timing of the movement's third anniversary coincides with "significant events", the first being the minister of higher education's controversial strategy to develop education. Nafaa was skeptical about the minister's intentions, arguing: "The premise of his strategy should be a good thing, but I believe they carry dangerous undertones."
Another significant development was the constitutional amendments put forth by the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). "No one outside the NDP takes this with any degree of seriousness," Nafaa said. "These amendments mark the end of reform and mark the beginning of a new stage... Will it be promising? I hope so, although everything points to the opposite and I'm worried."
Summing up three years of work, the group's co-founder, Mohamed Aboul-Ghar, writer, activist and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Cairo University, said there was now more awareness within the state and academia "of the lost concept of academic independence".
In his witty and occasionally sarcastic presentation, Aboul-Ghar listed a series of security and government violations in Cairo University which 9 March sought to bring to the public's attention by exposing them in leaflets the group publishes regularly. He said the movement defended academic freedom, resisted security intervention in academic matters and was critical of academic theft and religious discrimination.
The movement consists of 650 members but is not expanding as it should, according to Aboul-Ghar, because the security apparatus and university officials in most Egyptian universities, especially in the provinces, are intolerant of the group's activities and objectives. "A professor in Upper Egypt will probably get arrested the minute he joins the movement," Aboul-Ghar said. "The only exception perhaps is with Cairo University because of its history and academic weight."
"What [the authorities] need to understand is that academic independence has nothing to do with dissent," he said.
MEMBERS of the Arab Nasserist Party will meet today to elect the party's secretary-general and four deputies, reports Mona El-Nahhas.
Members are also expected to vote on amending the party's internal statutes. Changing the statutes to curb the power of the party's secretary- general and create a new post, that of first deputy chairman, was a demand voiced by prominent Nasserist figure Sameh Ashour.
Ashour, who intends to run for the would-be seat, said the aim behind amending the statutes was reforming the party's structure.
If conference organisers quash Ashour's suggestion, today's conference could turn into a battlefield between Ashour's supporters who are leading the party's reformist wing, and those of the party's influential secretary- general Ahmed Hassan, who rejects Ashour's plan.
Hassan, who party members allege has abused his position by misusing party funds, receives what many qualify as the blind backing of the party's 80-year-old chairman, Diaaeddin Dawoud. Reformists threatened to dismiss Dawoud if he scraps amending the statutes from today's agenda.
Today's conference is an extension of last December's fourth general congress which ended in failure. Beyond renewing Dawoud's mandate for six years, the December conference conspicuously failed to broach the issues that threaten to tear the party apart.
The majority of party members suspect that today's conference will be a repetition of its predecessor. They claim everything is planned in advance and that the conference is being held simply to legitimise the status quo.
PRESIDENT Hosni Mubarak has ordered Justice Minister Mamdouh Marie to drop a lawsuit which he filed against another judge, accusing him of libelling the president, reports Mona El-Nahhas.
On Sunday, Mubarak had ordered Marie to drop the lawsuit which he filed on Thursday against Judge Hamdi Wafiq, board member of Damietta Judges Club, accusing him of libelling the president.
Immediately after receiving the presidential order, Marie informed the Supreme Judiciary Council (SJC) that he was retracting his previous decree referring Wafiq to a disciplinary court.
As such, the trial of Wafiq, which was due to start on Saturday, was scrapped.
President Mubarak's directive came after the chairman of the Cairo Judges Club, Zakareya Abdel-Aziz, informed the presidential office of the incident and asked for the president's immediate intervention to contain the crisis.
Mubarak's decree in favour of Wafiq was passed just a day after he ordered that the state bear the costs of the treatment of Judge Gad El-Manzalawi, who works for the state council courts and who suffers from a brain tumor.
Steps to treat El-Manzalawi abroad were cancelled after Marie said his ministry would not pay for El-Manzalawi's treatment in Germany.
Marie refrained from implementing a final court ruling which obliged the Justice Ministry to bear all the costs for El-Manzalawi, whose health has deteriorated.
Replying to what he described as Marie's "inhumane stance," Judge Yehya Dakrouri, chairman of the State Council Judges Club, appealed to Mubarak to take action.
Abdel-Aziz hailed Mubarak's decision in favour of his two fellow judges, viewing them as "a sharp reply to whoever tries to sow the seeds of discord between judges and the presidency," referring to Marie.
In the line of fire
A POLICE officer was killed while rescuing a young woman from her kidnappers on 7 March. Officer Mohamed Abdel-Karim Hassan, 26, was on a routine patrol on the Mounib bridge in the early evening when he heard a woman calling for help from inside a speeding microbus van. Hassan and another policeman gave chase and were able to corner the microbus on the Cairo-Beni Sweif agriculture road. In an ensuing confrontation, one of the perpetrators disarmed Hassan and shot him with his own gun. He was killed instantly and the assisting policeman was wounded.
The van's driver and his associate had kidnapped a young woman from the Omraniya district, and were on their way to a secluded area to rape her. They were arrested within hours and identified as Ahmed Othman and Mahmoud Mahran.
Friends and family of the young officer were shocked by the news. "He is an example of a great officer and a wonderful gentleman," said Ezzat Arafa, an officer at Al-Haram police station where Hassan was stationed.
The fallen officer was to be married in two weeks to his high school sweetheart, whom he proposed to two months ago. "Minutes before his awful murder he was talking to me on the phone," said Hassan's best friend and fellow officer Mohamed El-Kharat. "He was very excited about his wedding."
President Hosni Mubarak, issued a decree promoting Hassan posthumously from a lieutenant to a captain for his bravery in handling the situation.
THE ALEXANDRIA Appeals Court refused an appeal by Internet blogger Abdel-Karim Suleiman who was sentenced to four years for derision of religion and insulting the president. Suleiman, 22, was arrested in November for posting entries on his blog that criticised Islam, Al-Azhar University and President Hosni Mubarak.
"I say to Al-Azhar and its university, professors and preachers who stand against anyone who thinks differently from them: you are destined for the rubbish bin of history and your regime will end like others have," he wrote. Suleiman also described Prophet Mohamed and some of his companions as terrorists, and compared Mubarak to a dictatorial Pharaoh of ancient Egypt.
During the court hearing, Suleiman did not deny writing the blog, but said they merely represented his views.
Suleiman's sentence, the first of its kind in Egypt, has revealed that despite their small numbers, bloggers have established themselves as an alternative media outlet. They too, however, are not safe from the government's reach.