Elections normally have an element of uncertainty. Not so when it comes to Students Union polls in Egypt. Last week's round of voting in campuses across the country held no surprises. No candidates affiliated with opposition parties or the Muslim Brotherhood appeared on the final lists and the vast majority of positions were won by students allied with the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) or backed by university administrations.
Students affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition group in Egypt, claimed that security officials removed their names from the lists, while those representing leftist and other opposition groups boycotted the poll in protest against the rigging of the vote.
A press release issued by the Muslim Brotherhood charges that "university administrations hampered opposition students from completing candidacy papers".
Riot police and Central Security Forces began cordoning off university campuses across the country on 14 October in an attempt to preempt demonstrations. They were not wholly successful. On Monday thousands of students in Cairo, Helwan, Ain Shams, Mansoura, Minya, Kafr Al-Sheikh and Al-Azhar universities staged protests against the elections.
"Our first demand is to kick State Security out of the university," read one banner held by protesting students at Cairo University. They also carried a mock coffin draped in black cloth announcing "the death of the Students Union".
"No free or fair elections have been held in the last 15 years," said Muslim Brotherhood MP Mohamed El-Beltagui. "Brotherhood students faced insurmountable obstacles placed by security and university officials."
University officials say that names were only removed from final lists when candidates failed to meet the stated requirements. "The elections were open to every student without constraint," insists Hossam Kamel, president of Cairo University.
Kamel's confidence is not shared by rights groups that monitored the elections.
"Levels of security intervention made these the worst elections conducted we have seen," said a statement issued by the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression. "Students affiliated with political parties and movements were ruled out from final candidates' lists on the pretext that they did not have a record of university activities, and university administrations refused to accept many other candidates' applications."
Having monitored elections in Cairo, Ain Shams, Helwan and Alexandria universities, the Young Members of the 6 April Movement concluded that "almost all positions were won by default by students affiliated with the NDP or those with links to the security apparatus. No students affiliated with the opposition appeared on candidates lists." In addition, the movement said, a majority of students refrained from casting their vote.
Salah El-Ghazali Harb, former head of the Students Affairs Department at Cairo University's Faculty of Medicine, says that "State Security Agency officers supervise the electoral process in universities from A to Z."
"University officials on all levels, including the minister of Higher Education, know very well that these elections are fake."
He added that, "the majority of students refrain from casting their votes because they know what happens on campus is just a microcosm of what happens in nationwide polls in Egypt."
Yehia El-Qazzaz, a professor at Helwan University and member of the 9 March Movement for the Independence of Universities, concurs. "Universities have become more like police stations where the officers reign supreme. By preventing opposition students from running for elections they force them to resort to violent means."
In 2006 clashes between members of the official Students Union and the Free Students Union left many injured at Ain Shams University. In the same year students affiliated with the Brotherhood staged a military-style parade at Al-Azhar University.
But what channels remain open for those excluded from the electoral process?
At Mansoura University students excluded from the poll decided to hold independent elections to form a free students union like the one formed in 2006. They were warned by university officials that if they pressed ahead with the "illegal" vote they would face indefinite suspension from classes.
Government officials stress that campuses should not be the site of political battles. Former minister of higher education Moufid Shehab (currently minister of state for legal and parliamentary affairs) once argued that "there should be no practice of politics in universities."
Taken to its logical conclusion, says Harb, it is an argument for the complete disenfranchisement of the young.
These policies of exclusion, El-Qazzaz argues, will persist as long as the current government is in office. "Any opposition movement that made an impact had its roots in the universities. The current government will not allow such movements to re-emerge again."
Preventing the practice of politics, in Harb's view, is "a heinous crime that should be eliminated if we want to breathe life into the young".