Revolutionary wave reaches private universities

Thousands of students gathered today in and around the German University in Cairo's (GUC) campus, to protest the decision to expel two students and suspend three, who were vocal in criticizing former regime figures in the administration.

The accused students had participated in a memorial for Karim Khouzam — a first year management student slain in the Port Said stadium violence that killed more than 70 people, and for which the ruling military council was accused of mismanaging the country’s transition. At the memorial, they chanted against military rule and the remnants of the old regime who hold key positions at GUC. They demanded that a memorial be built for Khouzam and that two inauguration stones on-campus from Hosni Mubarak be taken down.

“We will not stand silent and watch the university administration carry out arbitrary measures against students whose only fault was to express their will with the freedom they acquired thanks to a glorious revolution,” read the statement issued Tuesday by a group of GUC students in response to the expulsions.

Wednesday’s protesters rallied around six demands, including the reversal of the suspensions, replacing existing student union bylaws with student-approved ones, and the dismissal of former transport minister and member of GUC board of trustees Ibrahim al-Demeiry.

The suspensions were announced by email on 28 February, justified by “the inappropriate behavior of the students,” after a “final notice” had been sent warning them of expulsion “if they repeat the breach of public order in the university or participate in riots.”

Some of the suspended students, along with others, had been summoned by telephone for investigation by the university's Disciplinary Committee headed by Demeiry last week. They were accused of endangering other students, breaking into a university building, and disrupting the flow of education, beside other charges.

Students tweeted about the paradox of the Disciplinary Committee: the man who was not held accountable for the 2002 train fire that left hundreds dead during his term of office as transport minister in Mubarak's regime is now questioning students for engaging in a peaceful protest.

“We have not forgotten Upper-Egypt's train, or those who died in Port Said!” the students chanted on 18 February — the first day of classes of the spring quarter. It was the largest demonstration turnout in GUC’s history. Thousands of students gathered to pay tribute to Khouzam and to protest military rule.

In video testimonies posted on YouTube, the students who were subjected to investigation relayed their conversations with the disciplinary committee. They reported that committee member Yasser Hegazy, dean of the department of Information Engineering and Technology, said that students have no right to engage in political activity on campus.

“The administration describes any student mobilization as rioting,” said Amr Abdel-Wahab, one of the expelled students.

“Under what regulations were we subjected to investigation — we don't know. The laws they refer to are neither public nor official,” said the other expelled student, Hassan Ziko.

In a clarification email, sent an hour after the expulsions and suspensions were made public, the administration stated that the investigated students “persistently showed aggression and insulted the Disciplinary Committee after the investigation.”

Following the administration’s decision, calls for a solidarity protest spread on the internet. Student unions and groups from other universities, including the American University in Cairo, the British University in Egypt and the Modern Sciences and Arts University announced their support. On Wednesday, students from these universities as well as from St. Fatima School joined the protest in front of GUC campus.

Several student groups also called for the boycott of university canteens until the demands of the students are met.

Outside students and sympathizers entered GUC campus with the help of GUC students.

“The guards refused to let them in. We untied the chains that kept the gate closed without breaking the gate itself and we let between 500-1000 non-GUC students into the campus,” GUC student and activist Karim Naguib told Egypt Independent.

The students chanted near the office of university chairman, Ashraf Mansour, but were prevented by security guards from reaching the office to hand him a list of demands. “We are debating holding a sit-in in front of Mansour's office until our demands are met,” Naguib added.

Suspended students have filed lawsuits against the university administration.

Although a recently-established private university, GUC makes the second highest revenues among Egyptian private universities.

Despite being an elite university, GUC has been on the forefront of student mobilization following the 25 January revolution. GUC students were the first to call for a civil disobedience on 11 February to pressure the Supreme Council of Armed Forces to hand over power to civilians. Students have organized anti-SCAF activities on campus, such as the “Kazeboon” (Liars) video projection exposing the violations committed by the ruling military junta.

GUC had witnessed significant student mobilization last year demanding the right to set up an elected student union. A sleep-in was held by the students in March 2011 to press for their demands, including the control of fee hikes and the improvement of university facilities. In response, the administration expelled 16 students — who were later readmitted — and imposed a week-long holiday. The administration finally agreed to allow a student council to be elected, “without any enforcement of ideological, partisan or religious views and practices,” but rejected the student-drafted bylaws.

In their struggle for a democratic university and student rights, GUC students have likened their situation to that of Egypt, and their mobilization to the year-long revolutionary upheaval in the country.

The demand for new bylaws to be decided upon by the student body is sometimes discussed, drawing analogies with the national demands for a new constitution. The current student union is described as illegitimate by many students, citing low turnout due to boycott because elections were held under the old illegitimate bylaws.

“We learned in the revolution that legitimacy comes from the street; [in our case] from the students,” wrote Mostafa Essa, one of the suspended students, in a Facebook note criticizing the current student union's attempts to censor chants against military rule.

Moreover, the calls for the purging of remnants of the old regime — including figures such as Amr Moussa on the advisory board, former minister of endowments Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq, and Demeiry on the board of trustees — also makes GUC student activists feel they are part of a national movement.

Mostafa al-Sheshtawi, a GUC graduate, blogger and an activist, tweeted last week that “[The GUC administration is] following the footsteps of the old regime; trying to scare students so they don't protest. They forgot they faced guns in Tahrir.”

The students also see their struggle as seeds for a growing struggle in all institutions across the country, stressing commonality with the struggles of Egyptian farmers and workers. Some students define their long-term goal as the re-appropriation of elite private universities in Egypt to students; “The real owner of the university is the student” they note.

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