Politically affiliated student groups and activities will be banned from the Cairo University campus with the start of the new academic year, the University’s President Gaber Nassar told state-owned MENA on Sunday.
Student groups used for any political or partisan activities will be dissolved, Nassar said.
“It is not the university president’s right to make a decision like this,” said Sherif Hany, a teaching assistant in the Engineering Department at Cairo University.
He added: “The student bylaws are what organise student activities and clubs on campus. During the Mubarak era, the student bylaws did not allow for politically affiliated clubs but after the [25 January] revolution this changed. Now, according to the student bylaws, no one has the right to prevent the creation of a club. The only condition is that the clubs not be religiously discriminatory.”
Nassar told MENA this decision was because politically affiliated student activities “distract” students and “disrupt the educational pathway.”
According to Hany, “the students will probably try to do something about this, but you know the situation in the university is critical. However, just like in Mubarak’s days politically affiliated clubs were prohibited but existed, this will happen now. This may put them at risk of expulsion.”
He added: “In the end, politics is always present on campus. This is what makes university different from school.”
A Cairo University student who preferred to remain anonymous said student clubs and activities will continue anyway.
“This decision is only a continuation of the ‘gagged mouths’ policy. They want to keep students away from the current political events. We will not acknowledge these decisions, and student’s activities will continue to operate, to offer social services and political awareness,” the student said.
The previous academic year saw numerous amounts of protests and clashes between students and security forces on university campuses all across the country.
University exams were frequently postponed, while more recently the start of the academic year was postponed to 11 October instead of September.
Wissam Atta from the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) called Nassar’s decision a “clear violation of the students’ right to express their opinions inside the university. It is a clear attempt to restrain student activities working to narrow students [political presence]”.
He added that one could also clearly see the deterioration of universities throughout 2013-2014. Students are killed or detained, and their rights are violated in plenty of ways.
According to the AFTE’s Student Observatory, security forces killed at least 16 students inside Cairo University’s campus this year.
Meanwhile, the crackdown on academic freedom has not been limited to student protests on campus. Alexandria professor Mohamed Tarek, who had given his testimony to Human Right Watch (HRW) for their report on the security forces’ violent dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in in August 2013, was arrested on Saturday.
HRW’s Middle East and North Africa executive director said on her Twitter account that “this is shameless retaliation for telling truth”, adding that HRW was “gravely concerned”.
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi also ordered that Minya University’s president be expelled from his position in mid-August for alleged ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.
“This is also a clear violation on academic freedom because these professors weren’t taken away for academic reasons, but it was for purely political reasons,” Atta said.
Tens of professors have been under the same threat because of their political backgrounds, he said.
Atta also referred to Al-Sisi’s presidential decree last June, which amended the law governing universities signalling a return to a system of appointment rather than election of university chairmen and deans. “This,” he added, “is also a setback for academic freedom.”
Cairo University expelled at least 90 students throughout the past academic year for allegedly inciting violent acts on campus.
Forty-two students arrested on campus in Cairo University and detained since last January had their trial postponed on Sunday.
AFTE’s Student Observatory has also reported that at least 370 students were expelled from 10 public universities last year.
Students Against the Coup (SAC), a student movement founded after the military ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, has organised on-campus protests since, condemned Nassar’s decision.
“Do student clubs and activities that work to service students stand in the way of education, whilst killing and detaining students inside the university campus, under the orders of Nassar, does not?” the movement wrote in a statement on its official Facebook page.
They wrote that Nassar’s decision conflicts with article number 322 of the student bylaws which states that, the university works to “encourage the creation of student activities and clubs,” as well as “granting students the freedom to practice political awareness and positive participation in political life and communicating with different political currents”.
The spokesperson for the SAC group called the decision “one of the crimes of the coup” and said the group would not acknowledge Nassar’s decision.
It has been “a full year of student struggle, a full year of steadfastness in the face of all sorts of oppression, an entire year of the martyrdom of the best students…,” the statement said.