Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))
Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))

Ahram Weekly

All over again

Activists, students and public figures condemn the annulment of student union election results and a repeat of the vote, reports Reem Leila

Al-Ahram Weekly

Student movements, along with activists and more than 400 public figures, among them former presidential candidates, have denounced the interference of the Ministry of Higher Education in student union elections. The ministry annulled last month’s election results and announced a new poll.

The controversy began last week when the committee formed by the Higher Education Ministry accepted an appeal that nullified the candidacy of Zagazig University student Ahmed Attia for the post of vice-president of the Zagazig student union of Al-Sharqiya governorate following a mistake in electoral procedures.

According to an official statement issued by the Ministry of Higher Education, the committee which annulled the election results is independent and not affiliated to the ministry.

According to regulations introduced by the Higher Education Ministry, any student who belongs to a terrorist group is banned from running in student elections. The ban has resulted in the exclusion of hundreds of students. The Muslim Brotherhood, 6 April and Revolutionary Socialists have all been barred from voting.

Several student movements denounced the decision, claiming it came after independent student representatives won a large number of seats while students favoured by the government won fewer seats. Egypt’s Student Union Federation was outraged by the Ministry of Higher Education’s decision to repeat the vote for the federation’s board members. “The ministry has let us down. We have lost confidence in the ministry’s decision-makers. There is no democratic future waiting for us,” the federation said in a statement.

Representatives of 14 universities, including Cairo, Alexandria and Ain Shams, have sent a petition to President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Prime Minister Sherif Ismail asking them to “intervene and stop the farce of meddling in students’ free will which increases the gap of confidence between students and the political system”.

Meanwhile, on 27 December, student representatives agreed to meet in Cairo to discuss their next step.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Al-Haqanya Law Centre, Nazra Feminine Studies, Al-Nadeem, and the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), along with 11 other associations, described the situation as “a continuation of the state crackdown on students in Egypt” in their condemnatory joint statement issued on 28 December.

The statement stated that the committee supervising the elections should have double-checked its procedures earlier instead of cancelling the elections after the results were announced. Moreover, student union presidents and their deputies in universities across Egypt said they had been pressured by universities and by the ministry to vote for certain people, the joint statement said.

“The decision is considered the latest episode in the Higher Education Ministry’s regular persecution of official and unofficial student bodies,” the organisations said in a joint statement.

The statement also pointed to recent statements issued by the President of Cairo University, Gaber Nassar, who hailed the “victory” of independent candidates that came “in spite of attempts to interfere”, according to press reports.

The statement said the ministry’s stance “could force youths to abstain from participating in any future electoral process”.

Meanwhile, in a joint statement, student movements called on Ashraf Al-Sheehi, the minister of higher education, to step down. “The ministry is directly interfering in directing and stalling student politics,” the statement said.

“Allowing Al-Sheehi to continue means allowing corruption to continue,” the statement said. It accused the ministry of creating an entity called the Voice of Egyptian Students that “was realistically the voice of the ministry”.

Al-Sheehi said that university student union elections were transparent, but that the problem was with Egypt’s general student union. “For each university, we have a reliable student union,” Al-Sheehi said, adding that the elections for nationwide student unions had to be repeated due to the “procedural mistake”.

In an attempt to deflect accusations that it interfered in the election results, the ministry has resorted to a prominent judge in the Consultation and Legislations Department of the State Council for expert legal opinion.

Mohsen Saadallah, a student at the Faculty of Engineering in Cairo University, said that as the end of semester exams approach, new elections will have to be held next semester “which wastes time needed by the Egyptian Students Union to serve the student community properly”.

This year’s student union elections, held on 16 November, were the first in two years.

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