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EGYPT: Court rules that police should leave Cairo University campus

November 27, 2008 |  9:42 am


Holding a peaceful protest at Cairo University can be perilous. Students, as if concealing drugs or some other illicit contraband, must smuggle banners and leaflets past police stationed at the gates, says Mostafa Maher, a second-year business student. Once on campus, students must be cautious not to be caught in possession of these publications before the protest begins.

Surmounting these obstacles does not end the hassle. Protesters say they are sometimes beaten by plainclothes thugs brought in by the police to intimidate. Other times, Maher says, police resort to different tactics, such as sponsoring a football game at the site of the protest to distract students and eventually thwart the demonstration.

The suppression of protests symbolizes the pervasive influence that campus police have had on student life since 1981. That may be ending. Egypt’s supreme administrative court, saying the independence of universities must be respected, ruled this week that security forces from the Ministry of Interior should evacuate the Cairo University campus.

"This is a positive development that declares the victory of both students and professors," said Maher, who belongs to a group that opposes the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The court ruled that the constitution guarantees the full independence of universities and research centers that "contribute to refining knowledge and offering sciences that support the society and pave the way for a better future for the country."

Students and others, however, remain skeptical. "It is an excellent and very clear verdict and there is no way any court could change it, but the government will resort to different tricks to prevent its enforcement," said Mohamed Abouel Ghar, professor of gynecology at Cairo University.

"It is a real police state; everything is run by the police," said Ghar, who joined with other university professors to file suit this year to limit the police presence. Although the verdict concerned only Cairo University, Ghar said that if it was enforced, all campuses could receive the same treatment.

Intervention by the security forces has had a "terrible" effect on academic life, Ghar said. "All appointments to top academic positions do not depend on elections or academic merits," he said. "The university's presidents, deans, as well as lecturers, [must] be approved first by the police authorities, who make sure that the candidate would obey their rules."

Hence, the educational quality at Egyptian universities has deteriorated markedly. "They don't care about education or scientific research; they want us to be silent," Ghar said. 

Student activities have also been seriously affected by such interventions. Student union elections are often marred by violence between the supporters of opposition candidates and the police.

The police "support certain students and cancel out the names of candidates who belong to any opposition," said Maher, who contended that both students and professors should keep pressuring the state to ensure the enforcement of the new ruling.

It remains to be seen whether the court's decision can overturn all interventions by the Interior Ministry in university and student affairs. On Wednesday, a day after the verdict was handed down, 13 students were reportedly injured at Cairo University in clashes with riot police during a protest of the siege of Gaza.

-- Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photo: Anti-Mubarak protest in front of Cairo University in 2005. Credit: Associated Press