Al-Ahram Weekly Online   28 October - 3 November 2010
Issue No. 1021
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Free of police

The government has pledged to implement a court ruling which restores the sovereignty of universities, reports Mona El-Nahhas

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In what was hailed as a historical ruling, the Supreme Administrative Court on 23 October backed a previous ruling passed in 2008 by a lower administrative court ending the presence of Interior Ministry security personnel in Cairo University.

The court quashed all appeals previously filed by the cabinet and the ministries of interior and higher education contesting the first- degree court ruling.

Stating the reasons for Saturday's ruling, the Supreme Administrative Court viewed the continuous presence of Interior Ministry security personnel inside the campus as diminishing the independence of universities granted by the law and the constitution and shackling the freedom of professors, students and researchers.

Removing security personnel from universities will allow the security apparatus to play its role in safeguarding citizens all over the country, the court said.

The court called upon the university administration to form its own security unit, which will be affiliated to the university administration.

The court said that filing appeals in courts not related to the case to halt the implementation of the ruling will be totally ineffectual, according to rulings of the Supreme Constitutional Court.

Reacting to the court ruling, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif stressed that the government respected court rulings. "We will study the ruling and its reasons thoroughly after getting an official copy of it," Nazif stated in Damietta governorate while meeting with governors on Sunday. "We respect the ruling and will apply it, but we have to maintain security at universities together with their independence," he said.

According to Nazif, the ruling did not annul the presence of the security apparatus inside universities. "The ruling just abolished its affiliation to the Interior Ministry," Nazif noted.

Minister of Higher Education Hani Hilal said his ministry will form working teams to study means of implementing the ruling as soon as getting an official copy. Hilal did say that there will be certain difficulties facing its implementation.

According to Hilal, the mission of the security apparatus was mainly limited to maintaining security without the least interference in running university affairs.

On Wednesday, Hossam Kamel, the Cairo University president, held a meeting with the university's board to discuss possible alternatives regarding safeguarding university property, equipment and documents, the value of which is estimated at billions of pounds.

Last Saturday's ruling was passed in response to a lawsuit filed in the Administrative Court by a group of Cairo University professors, mainly members of the 9 March Movement for the Independence of Universities. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs asked that all security personnel affiliated to the Interior Ministry be removed from Cairo University campuses, arguing that their presence violates constitutional articles guaranteeing the independence of universities. According to them, the security personnel repeatedly intervened in demonstrations, student union elections and in the promotion of professors.

In November 2008, the Administrative Court ruled in their favour. However, the ruling was shelved after the prime minister and the ministers of interior and higher education filed a request before another court asking for an immediate suspension of the ruling until the Supreme Administrative Court settles the appeal they made.

Now that the legal battle has been settled in their favour, university professors from the 9 March group hope that the government will keep its promise and implement the final ruling.

Abdel-Galil Mustafa, a member of 9 March, vowed to sue university presidents who will not implement the ruling, noting that the ruling applies to all 19 state-owned universities. However, a number of university presidents insist that this week's ruling should be applied only to Cairo University as their universities were not part of the lawsuit.

As for university students, not everyone was happy with the court ruling. Although a wide sector of students, mainly those belonging to opposition movements, hailed the ruling, others were alarmed by the would-be absence of security personnel in university campuses. "The presence of security personnel makes us feel safe. I think their presence is necessary for safeguarding the university and the students," said Mai Ahmed, a student at the Faculty of Arts in Cairo University.

Ali Mustafa, a Faculty of Law student, differed with Ahmed. "I am so happy. For the first time, we'll have the chance to express our views and to elect our union members freely," Mustafa said, though doubting that the ruling would ever be implemented.

Since the establishment of Cairo University in 1908 and up to 1955, safeguarding the university was the task of ordinary security units affiliated to the university's administration. It was only in 1955 when security personnel affiliated to the Interior Ministry stepped onto the campus. Their presence lasted until May 1971 when former president Anwar El-Sadat, in a step which aimed at widening the margin of democracy, replaced them with civil security units. However, in September 1981, just one month before Sadat's assassination, the then interior minister ordered a return of the old security personnel. The need for safeguarding universities with highly-qualified security personnel was the reason cited for passing the decree. But some saw it as part of the siege imposed upon political life in Egypt at the time.

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