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Saturday, 03 March 2018

Besieged Universities: A Report on the Rights and Freedoms of Students in Egyptian Universities (3)

(SAIH) - The Coup : Another wave of optimism ensued. Yet again, the people had proved that they were able to mobilize

, and many thought that the power of collective action would bring desirable results. The student movement hoped to re-take its place in university politics after the Muslim Brotherhood was defeated. After all, they were a main pillar in overthrowing what they perceived as an Islamist dictator, and they were able to thwart the violations committed against them whether by SCAF or by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The rapid transformation that Egypt has undergone the past six years has created a reactionary student movement, one that is unable to plan and organize effectively. Indeed, the two and a half years that followed the events of January 2011 seemed promising. Students were able to advocate for their rights, organize protests and launch campaigns, and defend their economic and social rights - such as those that pertain to their right to health care, good quality student housing, and their right to access and influence university budgets. However, there was a clear absence of organizational structures and long-term objectives. Nevertheless, the military regime, with the help of the “Tamarod” campaign, was able to co-opt students and their efforts.
The post-coup regime, under the then interim President Adly Mansour and under current President al-Sisi, has committed an alarming number of human rights violations against students and the Egyptian society at large. Student groups backed by or associated with political parties were
banned, restrictive laws were passed, and student arrests increased rapidly. Many students found themselves involved in a struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters on one side, and the new military regime that was using its full force to legitimate and institutionalize its existence on the other.
The new regime, unlike Morsi’s, had the full support of state institutions, and most importantly, the support of the security apparatus. Violence, the use of extreme force, and
polarization are seen as the characteristics of Egypt’s postcoup era. Suddenly, a vibrant and pluralistic political life was reduced to black and white binaries. You were either a Morsi supporter or a military supporter and there existed no space for revolutionary movements, students or otherwise. The Muslim Brotherhood organization mobilized their students in universities against the incumbent regime, and escalated their actions as state violence increased. This state of violence and polarization resulted in hundreds of arrests, dozens of deaths, and independent student voices being silenced. Freedom of expression and participation dropped from its peak in 2011 to reach alarming and precarious levels by late 2013. Many students were afraid for their own security and academic future, which greatly impeded engagement with university politics, and weakened the student movement overall.


Egypt has ratified a series of international legal and normative instruments to which they oblige to adhere to. Most notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC). Additionally, Egypt has ratified the UN Covenant against Discrimination in Education. Of the Articles most relevant for this report, are those encompassing the Right to Freedom of Expression, Peaceful Assembly, and Freedom of Association9, as well as the Right to Higher Education equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, and free from discrimination.10 Moreover, the extrajudicial killings of students is a clear violation of the Right to Life.
UNESCO has developed interpretations of the most relevant Human Rights treaties in the context of Higher Education, most notably in its Recommendation concerning Higher-Education Teaching Personnel, which states that:
The  right to education, teaching and research can only be fully enjoyed in an atmosphere of academic freedom and autonomy for institutions of higher education.  In addition, UNESCO, in their Law and Police Review Guidelines on the Right to Education, published in 2014, laid out the obligations of states in order to implement the right to education. Here it is mentioned that Article 13 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states that there are “three types of obligations on states: respect, protect and fulfill the right to education.”
Nevertheless, Egypt’s own constitution enshrines commitments to academic freedom and institutional autonomy, as well as freedom of expression. As laid out specifically in Article 65:

Military in Universities

Under international law, states have an obligation to protect higher education and the human rights and academic freedom of students, faculty and staff. This includes an obligation to respond appropriately to protect higher education from attack from external threats, coercion or violence. Further, states should refrain from participating in acts or threats of violence and coercion which aim to intimidate or silence members of higher education communities. Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) has investigated the relation between Attacks on Higher Education and Academic Freedom and Institutional Autonomy. Their investigation has led to Th Principles of State Responsibility to Protect Higher Education from Attack, based on existing international law and human rights obligations. The Principles stipulate how states should protect higher education from attack. The most notable here is to abstain from direct or implicit involvement in attacks on higher education.
The following chapter will demonstrate how Egypt has used excessive legal and practical tools, such as the presence of security forces on campus and the use of military trials to repress students and faculty, instead of protecting them, which in no matter of incident is accounted as legitimate. As stated in the principles of GCPEA, states should ensure that domestic criminal codes, national security laws, or other relevant normative frameworks for protecting civilians include protection of higher education. Furthermore, states should avoid ideological or partisan uses of higher education facilities which might foster a perception of the university as a politicized agent.
The presence of security forces in universities in Egypt is a matter of high concern, as it is not only undermining the principle of university autonomy and harming individuals, by putting students’ lives at risk, but also creates a climate of fear and repression and causes a setback in the progress and quality of research and education.
A review of the cases of violations against students in Egyptian Universities in the past three academic years is provided below.
Please note: Our data includes the number and identity of students who were subjected to violations inside or in the vicinity of universities, or violations committed against them outside the university – relating to their capacity as a student.
Data presented in this report is thereby excluding human rights violations towards students participating in activities in other public arenas. Therefore, the monitoring process for military trial referrals does not include all cases of student referrals to military courts under Decree No. 136 for the year 2014; it only includes cases that pertain to the university. A large number of students were transferred to military courts based on this law but outside of the scope of the university campus.

Legal and Legislative Violations

This chapter deals with the laws and legislative amendments that were passed from July 2013 to July 2016, with respect to universities, which had a significant impact on the rights and freedoms of the academic community.
Restrictive Student Bylaws Limiting Freedom of Association and Assembly Mo’men Essam, a medical student at Assiut University in Upper Egypt, along with his colleagues, were preparing for student elections scheduled to take place in October 2015. At the time, all student activity in public universities was suspended for two full academic years.22 Students had to double their efforts as they were preparing electoral lists under extremely difficult circumstances. Mo’men, who is also the Media Officer for the students of the Bread and Freedom political party, said: ”What made the situation even more difficult  is that students from two consecutive academic years did not participate in student elections and did not witness their atmosphere, this was due to the suspension of student unions during this period”.
Only a few days before the date of the student elections, the Minister of Higher Education, Ashraf al-Shihi, issued a decree on October 18th 2015 that introduced substantial amendments to the administrative and financial student bylaws that regulate the electoral process. This completely befuddled all Mo’mens’ efforts, and many other students, who had begun to prepare for elections in different universities.
“We had already prepared our electoral lists according to the old electoral system in more than one university; an electoral system that was also new as it originated from the latest student bylaws, and was never used to regulate elections. Then the amendments to the bylaws changed everything; this electoral system was completely different, and there were many arbitrary restrictions on the criteria for candidacy.”  - Mahmoud Shalaby, Strong Egypt Student Movement, Coordinator in 2015/2016
These amendments  imposed clear restrictions on students’ right to organize; the arbitrary criteria regulating the right to run for student elections prevented those who did not pay full tuition fees from participating. Additionally, students have to be Egyptian nationals and must acquire a passing grade every year. It is important to note that the bylaws that were drafted directly after the events of January 2011, stipulated that students only had to pay the student union fees before running for elections, which constitutes 3 per cent of the total tuition fees. These amendments are in violation to fair representation, and are in direct contravention of UNESCO’s Convention against Discrimination in Education, which Egypt has ratified.
Moreover, the amendments stipulated that if a student wishes to run for elections, they ”must have a record of noticeable participation in student activity, and an exception is to be made for first year students”. This specific amendment prevented a large number of students from running for elections, as the interpretation of the word ”noticeable” was left in the hands of university staff, who are responsible for managing the electoral process, and accepting applicants for candidacy. This amendment was the main reason behind the exclusion of hundreds of students in the recent elections in 2016, according to data produced by the Supreme Committee for Student Elections, which was founded by the Ministry of Higher Education.