Al-Ahram Weekly Online   1 - 7 November 2007
Issue No. 869
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

University politics

Campus elections have again become the site of violence between security forces and students, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

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The university campus was the scene of a battle last week

The 9 March Movement for the Independence of Universities (MMIU) staged a silent protest on Monday against interference by the security forces in student elections. MMIU says student elections held last week at several universities were manipulated by security personnel in favour of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). Among the worst hit campuses, they claim, was Ain Shams.

Members of the Press Syndicate joined the MMIU protest after journalists covering student elections at Ain Shams were assaulted by security forces. The syndicate and MMIU have accused the police of using "hooligans and thugs" to disrupt student demonstrations organised to protest against the rigging of student elections. MMIU has also taken the administration of Ain Shams University for allowing "police-sponsored hooligans and thugs" to enter the campus and attack student with sticks and bludgeons.

"We believe that the administration of Ain Shams University was directly implicated in the use of force against students," MMIU said.

The Press Syndicate's Division of Education Reporters has accused Ahmed Zaki Badr, president of Ain Shams University, of taking a tough line against students. They have asked Badr, the son of a former minister of interior, to apologise for the assault suffered by Amr Sharaf, a photographer with the independent daily Al-Dostour, and Abul-Seoud Mohamed, a journalist with the independent daily Al-Masri Al-Yom, at the hands of campus security forces. Sharaf has lodged a complaint with the prosecutor- general accusing the Ain Shams University security guards of assaulting him and stealing a camera and money, while Mohamed accuses Badr of giving orders to security guards to beat him and expel him from campus. Sharaf and Mohamed were both taken to the nearby Al-Demerdash Hospital for treatment.

Last year Ain Shams was the scene of violent clashes between university students belonging to Muslim Brotherhood and security forces. A number of Muslim Brotherhood students were subsequently arrested and charged with inciting unrest.

In December 2006 students from the University of Al-Azhar organised a demonstration in which they wore paramilitary uniforms and conducted martial arts exercises while chanting jihadist slogans, a development that drove the NDP to adopt strategies aimed at eradicating Muslim Brotherhood influence on university campuses. Badr has accused Brotherhood students of planning to use violence in order to sway the elections. Badr was quoted by the government-owned Rose El-Youssef daily newspaper as saying that security guards had to intervene to prevent Muslim Brotherhood students from turning the campus into a battlefield. "We know that one of the Muslim Brotherhood's goals is to recruit students to their ranks and turn universities into a frontline in their confrontation with the regime," said Badr.

Senior NDP officials say they will discuss new regulations governing student elections at the party's ninth congress next week. The 1979 regulations currently in force will be amended to impose a ban on political activities on campus in an attempt to prevent religious forces infiltrating university affairs.

Opposition and Muslim Brotherhood activists accuse the NDP of using security forces to manipulate student elections. A week before the elections state security removed the names of Brotherhood and leftist students from the list of candidates, ensuring that the NDP swept the poll, they claim.

At Cairo University, professors set up a committee to monitor the elections. In a statement issued on Monday the Committee for the Protection of Students said the poll at Cairo University was marred by heavy handed security that meant students were not free to select the candidates they favoured. The committee recommends that the 1979 student regulations be amended not to ban political activities on campus, but to protect student freedom of expression and eliminate all forms of security intervention in university affairs.

Brotherhood MPs said they had tabled questions in the People's Assembly asking the interior minister and minister of higher education to explain the actions of security personnel on university campuses. Hamdi Hassan, the Brotherhood's media spokesman, told reporters the aggression against students is part of the NDP's ongoing campaign against any group -- including judges, journalists and industrial workers -- that press for greater independence.

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