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A dispute between the American University in Cairo (AUC) administration and students over a proposed 7 percent hike in tuition fees led to a second blockade of campus gates on Thursday.
Later in the day, AUC President Lisa Anderson met student representatives in a bid to end the protests.
AUC students have two main demands: cancelling the 7 percent increase in the tuition fees, and imposing a tuition cap for current students. Protesting students say these demands go hand in hand with the broader goals of better education, services and financial transparency.
After a meeting lasting several hours late Thursday, the administration agreed to propose three plans for implementing a tuition cap for returning students by 15 November of the current year. Students are to choose from the proposed plans, which would come into effect starting next semester. A final agreement was not met, however, and talks are set to resume on Saturday morning.
“Agreement on the tuition cap is an achievement for the movement, but students still think the university could give more, because of the long wait and the negligent strategy that the administration has been following,” said Aly Osman, head of the student union’s activities committee, after the meeting.
Protest organizers had decided earlier that a petition in support of the blockade would be circulated in order to strengthen their position. This came after the university was closed on Sunday, with clashes between students who are for the movement and those who are against.
“We decided that if more than 50 percent of the students signed the petition, we would close the gates, to include people in the decision,” Youssef Nagy, one of the students supporting the movement, said the day before the blockade.
The petition obtained 2,800 signatures out of a total of around 7,000 students, meaning the protesters did not meet their 50 percent target — but they closed the gates regardless.
“The movement was never affiliated with the Student Union (SU) solely; from its beginning it included student activists, SU activists and whoever is supporting the cause,” Osman stated.
Students who were suspended after Sunday’s strike were allowed to attend classes until the disciplinary committee takes its decision.
University security was lined up inside the campus without coming into contact with the protesters, saying that they had orders not to clash with the students. Some protesters said that a student was beaten by one of the security forces, but Egypt Independent was unable to verify the claims.
“For sure, I’m for the cause of lifting the tuition increase, but I just don’t get the closing the gates part,” a frustrated freshman said while sitting on the street outside the campus.
Unlike Sunday, when staff and faculty were allowed in campus, Thursday’s action didn’t allow anybody in or out of the campus. Students living in on-campus dorms, including a group of international students, were stuck inside with no facilities.
“Closing the gates and forcing people out is neither democracy nor freedom,” Professor Aziza al-Lozy said after being denied access to the campus.
Students decided to open the gates on Friday for the swimming championship that was pre-planned to take place at AUC. They hadn’t yet decided whether to keep the gates open when the classes resume after the weekend.
“We will continue the movement till the end, but I think the university administration is wise enough not to neglect us, which will lead to more escalation,” Taher al-Moataz Bellah, the SU president said, speaking on the “Momken” talk show with anchor Khairy Ramadan.