• 17:42
  • Tuesday ,23 October 2012

Egyptian students accuse new govt charter of restricting campus freedoms

by Ahram Online

Home News


Tuesday ,23 October 2012

Egyptian students accuse new govt charter of restricting campus freedoms

Various Egyptian student groups signed a joint statement on Monday condemning new university bylaws they say were approved on Thursday without their consent.

The new charter, which has legal force over Egyptian universities, is a comprehensive set of regulations related to university activities and student organisation.
The students said that the new charter was passed without their input and without the agreement of the student body at large, alleging the manner of approval mimics that of the former regime where bylaws were written and passed behind closed doors.
The signatories of the statement included several student unions – including those of Cairo University, Helwan University and the American University in Cairo – as well as partisan student movements such as the Constitution Party Students, the Egyptian Popular Current Students, the Socialist Popular Alliance Students, the 6 April Democratic Front Students and others.
The statement insisted that students will no longer "accept the approval of bylaws using the methods of a bygone era," promising to take serious measures to guarantee the preservation of student rights.
"The charter was passed in a top-down manner away from the majority of students," Mahmoud Nawwar, member of the Revolutionary Socialist Students movement, which signed the statement, told Ahram Online.
Nawwar said there were plans to hold workshops and conferences in order to involve all students in drafting the bylaws, and more importantly a referendum afterwards to approve or reject the proposals.
This was ignored by the Egyptian Student Union (ESU) which, along with the Minister of Higher Education and the Higher Council for Universities, approved the bylaws without warning, Nawwar said.
The role of the ESU, which in theory represents student unions from across Egypt, was explicitly rejected in the statement which said that all student forces must participate in decisions related to the passing of national bylaws.
Halim Heneish, a member of the Socialist Popular Alliance Students group, said that the majority of the ESU members are from the Muslim Brotherhood and that other members who were against the charter, such as those from Cairo University and Helwan University, were outvoted.
Other than the method of its approval, the charter itself is under fire.
Heneish maintains the charter is an improvement compared to its predecessor – which was dubbed the 'State Security Charter' in reference to the feared Mubarak-era security apparatus – but joins other students in rejecting a number of its stipulations.
The students rejecting the charter claim that many organisational hurdles and checks on freedom are stipulated in the new charter.
Topping the list of criticism is Article 318, which endows student unions as the "legitimate" entity representing students. This, opponents of the charter say, restricts other student activities and groups by stripping them of legitimacy.
"It could be the 'official' body; calling it the 'legitimate' one gives it power over other clubs or groups," Heneish argues.
Another important clause in contention is one giving unions the power to stop student activities with the support of a majority of two thirds.
This is a repressive clause, Nawwar argues, saying that instead of giving the union the power to suppress activities, it could instead set up activities to counter those that it disagrees with.
Other reservations include restrictions on the freedom of students to determine and control the student union budget and on transparency in decision making, and other clauses deemed detrimental to student freedoms.
Students intend to escalate if their demands aren't met. Protests are to be staged and conferences held to spread awareness about the issue, say the students.
Nawwar also said if the current bylaws operate, students will establish unified lists against Brotherhood candidates in upcoming student elections and propose bills to amend the charter.
According to Heneish: "We will pursue our university activities freely and will hold sit-ins even if we face the possibility of being beaten up or imprisoned."