Students at the German University in Cairo (GUC) are struggling for the right to have their own democratic students’ union. The students petitioned the GUC administration demanding their right to freedom of speech and to organise through their democratically-elected students’ union. The university authorities reacted with attempts to ban student union meetings on campus. When the students took strike action, the university authorities suspended lectures and seminars for one week - in effect, enforcing a lockout of students.
The students have drawn comparisons between the threats and actions of the GUC administration tops and the repressive actions of the Mubarak regime against millions of protesters fighting for democratic rights and real social change, before it was overthrown, earlier this year.
Last March, thousands of German University in Cairo students held protests over a decision by the university’s administration to suspend 30 fellow students. The students were suspended for protesting the lack of progress in the much-awaited student union. One student told ‘Ahram Online’: “The real reason behind the ban [on a students’ uion] was to curb the growing discontent the students had over the policies of the university…We were promised a 50 per cent German staff and we have nowhere near that, our library is small, our computer labs are not big enough, and they promised us lecture halls with a maximum of 25 students but we had 250 per lecture”. There has also been a constant increase in the tuition fees.
Below we carry a recent edited report by student activists at the German University, explaining the latest attacks from the authorities.
A protest at the GUC campus earlier this year
“A threatening email was sent on the night of November 3rd, on behalf of the German University in Cairo, addressing students and their parents in a very inappropriate manner. The highlight of the email was that the council decided to suspend classes for a week starting Saturday 12 November until Friday 18 November, so as to offer parents a week to “push us” for working on behalf of the public interest. Makes no sense to anyone, does it? Not even the administration could find a reasonable reason to declare cause, other than denying the power of students and fear of strike.
“The GUC applied a new strategy. They saw the failure of the old [Mubarak] regime’s threatening tactics during the Egyptian revolution, yet insisted on applying it to GUC students. On November 10th, the GUC administration suspended the Students’ Union (SU) official email, similar to Mubarak’s regime cutting off the internet on January 28th. The Mubarak regime believed that this would aid them in containing the power of people but they never saw the opposite happening.
“The letter to students at GUC included several made up ‘events’ and wild accusations. They accused students of being opposed to the ‘educational process’. The SU petition never mentioned any such objection regarding the educational service. Rather it demanded the students’ right to freedom of speech, through their fairly elected Students’ Union and for new procedures, instead of the current ones that do not grant the student union any power as an independent body. The petition also included documenting all transactions between students and university staff, as well as the university’s internal regulations, so as to stop the authorities referring to a vague “policy” to counter students’ demands. The GUC authorities responded to the former accusation by suggesting students transfer to another institution because of their supposed ‘educational dissatisfaction’!
“They also claimed that a number of student union members have badly misbehaved and encouraged violence. Is demanding a real Students’ Union considered a violent activity? Or is submitting a petition signed by students to the administration though of as violence against the university’s property? The GUC authorities’ letter to students and parents also explicitly threatened the possibility of intervention by State institutions against students, including using criminal laws. The letter ended warning of the consequences if the students’ strike continues.
“It is absolutely unacceptable of a supposedly respectable and highly-regarded university like GUC to blackmail its students and to address them like misbehaving infant school children. Clearly, the university administration failed to scare off the students: their threatening actions, in fact, helped to unite us.
“The university authorities use threats, along the lines of the ousted Mubarak regime, fearing a real Students’ Union and students demanding their rights.”
We urge readers to give support to the students’ struggle. Please send urgent protest messages to the German University of Cairo authorities:
The German University in Cairo
New Cairo City
Main Entrance El Tagamoa El Khames
Tel: +202 27589990-8
Fax: +202 27581041