August 26, 2019

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  • Campus politics: Has the chaos moved in?

    File photo of a protest by Ain Shams University students against on-campus thuggery in April.

    BY MAI SHAMS EL-DIN Cairo The practical advice from the vice president of student affairs at Ain Shams University wasn’t exactly what young Omnia Hassan expected when she complained that she was attacked  on campus by a group of “thugs”.

    “He suggested I carry a knife to protect myself because, according to him, even the president of the university can’t protect himself,” said Hassan, a junior at the Faculty of Arts.

    Ain Shams University students have been complaining from what they call “thugs” on campus. Theories abound about who they are, but it is widely believed that they are predominantly unemployed university graduates who had been groomed during their student years by security forces (before the revolution) to police the political activities of university staff and students.

    After the revolution, Interior Ministry-affiliated security was ordered off  university campuses on the basis of a court decision stipulating that the police should not be allowed to interfere in student life.

    But while the police left the campuses, their thugs have remained, Hassan claims.

    “We’ve had a long history with those thugs who used to harass protesting university professors and students who held sit-ins on campus. Those thugs belonged to the state security apparatus and used to rig student union election,” Hassan said.

    Hassan was filming an attack by those thugs on an activity booth at the faculty of arts when she was threatened by them.

    “They broke my camera and threatened me but when I complained, I was advised to carry a knife to protect myself. So I carry one now. It’s thuggery against thuggery,” she said.

    Thousands of Ain Shams University students headed by the Student Union staged a protest mid-April against thuggery and to lobby for tighter on-campus security by private security firms.

    During the protest, they were attacked by thugs and hundreds were injured, which led the university administration to suspend educational activities from April 17-27. But protests continued until the administration pledged to hire private security firms and took legal action against the thugs.

    “The chaos outside has moved into the campuses, the walls of the university can no longer protect us, and the campus does not enjoy the sanctity  it used to have before,” she said.

    In the Delta province of Mansoura, campus violence reached further heights. Students belonging to the Ahrar Islamist Student Movement demonstrated in front of the office of Mansoura University’s president, who they accused of complicity in hiding evidence against a faculty member who accidently drove over student Gehad Moussa as she was backing up her car last month.

    Moussa’s family claimed that their daughter died of negligence in the university hospital and accused the university officials of tampering with evidence against the professor and guiding the prosecution to another crime scene.

    In the protest, students were allegedly attacked by thugs hired by the university president. Twenty of the students were arrested by police and claimed that they were subjected to maltreatment before they were released.

    Back in Cairo, Al-Azhar University’s now serial food poisoning incidents in the dorms have also led to huge waves of violence when hundreds of students blocked the road in front of Al-Azhar Grand Imam’s headquarters and stormed the building in April to protest against the deteriorating conditions inside the student housing facilities.

    Ensuing calls by conservative political currents to dismiss Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb were a reflection of off-campus animosity between Egypt’s Salafis and El-Tayeb, whose moderate views have consistently challenged the Salafi discourse on vital social issues related to women and Copts.

    Ahmed Hemdan, an engineering junior at Cairo University and a supporter of the Ahrar movement says that there is a crackdown on the student movement.

    “Students are attacked by thugs inside campuses with no respect to the sanctity of the campus. Students will definitely respond with anger. What do they expect from us,” he says.

    Hassan believes that students must not stand silent in the face of such atrocities.

    “Our academic life is completely endangered, we are unsafe inside our campuses and I  cannot go to the university even though some of those who attacked me were arrested. I know I’m targeted,” she complains.

    “During our protests, the Minister of Higher Education visited the campus but the surrounding security personnel only guarded him even as we were being attacked for the second time by the thugs. The state is impotent,” Hassan says.

    Hemdan believes that the deteriorating security conditions on campus are part of a bigger picture in which the state is unwilling to implement the law.

    “The state is not just impotent, it is also complicit in engineering this level of violence,” he adds.

    Egypt’s increasingly polarized political situation has overshadowed the already troubled campus atmosphere, as the political conflict between the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and secular political forces escalates. While this hasn’t served as an indication of the the weakening of the Islamist group in the past, the Brotherhood’s student representatives have lost student union elections against independents this year, unravelling the MB’s traditional dominance on campus.

    The recent events have left students like Hassan disillusioned with the fact that the student movement has become too preoccupied with the ongoing political conflict off campus.

    “I resigned from my post as a member of the cultural committee of the Faculty of Arts’ student union. The unions have failed to protect the student body,” said Hassan.

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