Al-Ahram Weekly Online   25 October - 31 November 2012
Issue No. 1120
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Campus control

Like so much else, perhaps the Muslim Brotherhood plans to control Egypt's student unions, reports Reem Leila

Student unions of Cairo, Ain Shams, Helwan and Assiut universities along with 17 other student movements met on Saturday to protest against the new student union statutes, approved by the Higher Education Minister Mustafa Mossad on 18 October, during his meeting with members of the Supreme Council of Universities. The students oppose the new statutes on the grounds that they were drafted without taking their opinion into consideration.

President of Ain Shams University Hussein Eissa said in press statements that the final version of the statutes will not prevent students from practising any activity within the premises of their universities. "Amendments made by some university presidents aimed at protecting students," said Eissa.

According to Eissa, the new statutes bans secretary-generals of student unions from signing any checks regarding the union's budget, as most of them are under the age of 21. By law, only individuals over 21 can deal with banks and checks.

Yasser Sakr, head of Helwan University, said students were shocked by the articles of the new statutes. In the past, student union leaders were vetted by state security and all events had to be approved by the university administrations, which reportedly needed clearance from state security. The new regulations, not yet issued but recently leaked, suggest that efforts to reverse the restrictions of the old regime which was upended in last year's revolution, still face major hurdles.

The approved draft, according to Amr Hamdi, secretary-general of Helwan University's student union, was prepared by Egypt's Student Union (ESU). "This union is a Muslim Brotherhood entity. They have been meeting alone without inviting any of the student unions or sharing discussions with them on the proposed regulations. "The proposed statutes should have been subject to a public referendum by student unions of all universities across the country, before being approved by the minister who will refer it to President Mohamed Morsi for final approval," said Hamdi.

Sohaib Abdallah, secretary-general of the ESU, denied Hamdi's allegations, saying they were not true. "Out of the 63-article statutes, only six articles are controversial. And the ESU conducted a public referendum among students and the draft was approved by 90 per cent of them," said Abdallah.

Abdallah called upon students to prepare themselves for student union elections that he said will be held as soon as the draft statutes receive presidential approval.

Hamdi pointed out to Article 333 of the statutes which states that students are to be allowed to practise political activities within the university premises, yet the university's approval is essential because these activities should be in accordance with university regulations. This is in addition to getting the approval of the university's administration.

Violators of such articles are to be subject to a penalty which could lead to dismissal for one month from university. "Nothing has changed in this article. It is the same as in the old students statute of 1979," said Hamdi.

The article also stipulates that in order for students to be able to organise public events, they must get the consent of the university's administration, especially if organisers of the event will host a public speaker.

According to Hamdi, students must feel free to exercise any activity, political or otherwise. "The university is the place where future generations learn everything about politics. If students will not be able to practise politics on a small scale, where then should they practise it?" argued Hamdi.

Representatives of student unions are also against Article 318 of the statutes as it describes student unions as student syndicates through which students can practise all their activities freely. Mohamed Nagui, a commerce student at Cairo University, says the term "student syndicate" is general and vague. "We can't figure out what they mean exactly by student syndicates. Are we going to pay annual fees for this syndicate? Will it be able to defend us if a student lands into trouble? This article in particular requires further explanation because it is very vague to us and we cannot understand it," said Nagui.

Students also oppose another article of the statutes related to the election of the student union head. The article stipulates that the head of the student union can get the chair seat with the support of just 14 members out of the union's 65 students. "This article was approved by the Muslim Brotherhood's ESU." According to Nagui, the heads of student unions should get 50 per cent of the total votes plus one, to win.

Nagui believes that the MB approved the article to guarantee their victory if students refrained from or boycotted student union elections.

Angry students expressed their objection to the role which the Muslim Brotherhood plays in putting down regulations of student union statutes, viewing it as another example of deals conducted between the government and Muslim Brotherhood to dominate the country's sectors.

Mohamed Abdallah, head of Cairo University's student union, noted that the ESU does not represent students as they were elected in March 2011 in ad hoc elections with very low voter turnout. "How do they set regulations of student union statutes by themselves while not representing students?" Abdallah asked.

Abdallah, along with many students, opposes the new regulations, claiming they do not include enough changes to usher in a new era for university openness. "Before the 25 January Revolution, a majority of students doubted the effectiveness and credibility of student unions. Just a few students used to vote in student union elections. We were hoping the new regulations would help us in changing that. Unfortunately, they didn't," said Abdallah.

Members of student unions agreed that the mechanism used for coming up with the new regulations is the problem; accordingly, they decided to draft their own statutes. "Those who drew up the approved draft of the statutes did not have a mandate from students. Members of student unions will create their own proposed list of rules and regulations and pose it to all student bodies of their respective universities to replace that which was approved," Nagui said.

Nagui said that if the authorities refused the draft, students agreed to stage a sit-in until their demands are met. "Escalation is possible, however, it has not yet been discussed. We are moving one step at a time. We will have to wait and see what will happen in the coming days."

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