Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Sitting it out

Political unrest is disrupting exams on university campuses and in schools, reports Reem Leila

Al-Ahram Weekly

On Sunday Minister of Higher Education Hossam Eissa met with the Supreme Council of Universities to discuss ways to end the chaos engulfing campuses across Egypt. Daily student protests — many organised by students affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood — are paralysing not just teaching but examinations as well.

The situation has grown evermore tense with the advent of first term exams and the government’s designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group. The situation was compounded when, on Monday, a court ruled that no protest could be held on university property without first securing the permission of the university’s administration.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been using campuses to stage protests since the beginning of the academic year. Whether the court ruling, and the ministerial designation, will curb such activity remains unclear.

On 28 December Al-Azhar University was the scene of protests that left one student dead and 15 injured. More than 100 students were arrested. The clashes began when Muslim Brotherhood supporters tried to prevent students from entering the campus and sitting exams.

Ahmed Gamaleddin studies at Al-Azhar University’s Faculty of Commerce. The ongoing clashes, he says, prevented him from sitting his examinations. “The building was set on fire, despite the presence of security and firefighting forces. Muslim Brotherhood students had guns and terrorised us and staff members. They ripped up the seating lists and when the security forces attempted to interfere they burned the three-storey building along with our question papers.”

Security forces surrounded the women’s campus of Al-Azhar’s Faculty of Engineering in an attempt to halt protests aimed at hindering exams. Some students hurled wooden chairs at the police from the faculty building’s windows while chanting down with the military coup.

On 30 December the National Alliance in Support of Legitimacy, an umbrella grouping of Islamist movements, issued a statement urging members — students included — to stage what it called a week of rage.

Growing numbers of students have complained about the Brotherhood’s tactics preventing them from taking exams. “Muslim Brotherhood supporters chained the university’s gates and kept attacking us until most of us fled,” says student Ihsan Abdel-Maksoud.

On 28 December Muslim Brotherhood students at Assiut University attempted to prevent their colleagues in the Faculty of Science from sitting exams for the second successive day. They chained the gates of the faculty shut. After long negotiations the university administration succeeded in re-opening the gates on 30 December.

Bakr Zaki, a dean at Al-Azhar University, stresses that any students who have been detained will be able to sit exams in their place of detention.

“The university remains committed to their future and refuses to act from revenge. They are just students. They sabotaged university property and they should be punished for their vandalism but nothing more. There is no vendetta between these students and the university administration.”

Zaki said Muslim Brotherhood students had vandalised gates and that a number were in possession of Molotov cocktails. “We had no choice but to call security officials to intervene and stop the mess,” he said.

At Cairo University’s Faculty of Engineering — scene of the fatal shooting of student Mohamed Reda during protests earlier in December — examinations went ahead as planned despite the absence of security forces from the campus. Dalia Hegazi, a professor at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science, stresses that the situation at Cairo University is different to that at Al-Azhar.

“Students sat for their exams amid calm though there were daily protests either before or after the exams. We didn’t witness any real disturbances at the university. The Armed Forces even opened the Nahda Square and all streets leading to the university,” she said.

“It is a tense and uncomfortable atmosphere in which to sit exams,” complained student of pharmacy Khaled Abdel-Aal. “Muslim Brotherhood students are very selfish. They don’t care about anyone except themselves and their demands. But if they don’t care about their future, we do.”

At Ain Shams University Students Against the Coup (SAC) organised a protest in solidarity with Al-Azhar colleagues. Some protested outside the university, shouting pro-Morsi slogans. Elsewhere a group of masked protesters attempted to halt examinations at the faculties of science and computer science by destroying students’ seating lists. Administrative security, reinforced by police, moved to end the protests.

Maisa Othman, a student at Ain Shams’ Faculty of Science, believes the ongoing protests are a reaction against police violence. “It’s unfair to arrest students for expressing their opinions. Where is freedom of expression? It’s our right to express our views peacefully without being threatened by security forces,” she said.

Othman accuses Brotherhood students of vandalising university property and abusing staff members. “Spoiling university facilities goes against student welfare. These are our belongings. Why are they destroying things from which we all benefit?”

Many students, unwilling to risk their futures, are determined to press on with exams despite the disturbances.

“It would have been more effective if a large scale boycott had been organised,” said one student while raising the four-fingered Rabaa salute.

At Mansoura University dozens of vehicles belonging to security forces surrounded the campus as Muslim Brotherhood students attempted to prevent their colleagues from entering the examination hall. According to one — Ahmed Abdel-Ahad — after the Daqahliya Security Directorate bombing police raided Mansoura University and detained a large number of students: “Security forces have severely tortured the detained Brotherhood students. We are protesting to demand their release,” he said.  

“What is going on on campuses is ridiculous. No one is benefiting from it,” says political analyst Hassan Nafaa. The way out of the impasse, he argues, means taking one of two options. Either a dialogue is initiated between the authorities and students supporting the Muslim Brotherhood or else security forces take over campuses.

The unrest also extends to schools.

“Exams have been brought forward to the beginning of January instead of 11 January as the referendum on the constitution will take place on 14 and 15 January,” says Hoda Suleiman, headmistress of a private school. “This has caused a state of panic among students, teachers and parents. The school administration had to bring forward our preparations for exams, organise classes and assign teachers to monitor exams three weeks earlier than normal. This caused anger among teachers because they had their own plans for the holidays.”

Mother of two schoolboys Rasha Mohamed complains she received very short notice of the timetabling change. “We have not finished studying. I don’t know how the school could do this so suddenly,” she says. The schools changed the schedule due to the time of voting on the constitution referendum which will take place on 14 and 15 January, she added.

“Why must the government use schools for the referendum,” asks Nirvana Ahmed, mother of three school age children. “Why don’t officials choose other places for voting?”

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