Current Date:

Monday, 05 March 2018

Besieged Universities: A Report on the Rights and Freedoms of Students in Egyptian Universities (4)

(SAIH) - (Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund): Another arbitrary amendment stipulated that students

who wished to run had to have a clean academic record without any disciplinary action against them. Thus, hundreds of politically active students were excluded from participating, as many universities have increasingly imposed disciplinary sanctions on student activists during the two academic years subsequent to the events of July 3rd 2013, and subsequent to the escalation of the actions taken by the Students Against the Coup movement of the Muslim Brotherhood, during this period.
Furthermore, another article specified, ”no student can run for elections if they are a member of a terrorist group or organization”30. This article targets Muslim Brotherhood students directly, as a court ruling deemed the organization a terrorist group. What is considered problematic about this
article is the fact that the university institution does not have the means, nor the legal capacity to determine its students’ affiliations. It is only logical that an academic institution has no jurisdiction over the matter, unless it resorts to security reports detailing its students’ affiliations, which is illegal.
Determining whether a person is a member of a terrorist organization is a court matter that needs to be based on a final and conclusive verdict, and it is near impossible to identify each applicant’s affiliation since their numbers are in the thousands.
The new student bylaws posed other obstacles; the changes to the structure of the student union and to the electoral procedures caused more barriers. The student bylaws that were issued in November 2014 by the former Minister of Higher Education, Sayed Abdelkhalik, developed an electoral system that was applauded by many student activists. These bylaws allowed for more direct and grassroots elections, where the student union council for each college (a total of 16 members: the student union president for the college, their vice-president, and committee secretaries and their assistants) is directly elected by all the students of the corresponding college, contrary to the old electoral system of indirect elections. However, the 2015 amendments reinstated the old electoral system of both the 2007 and January 2013 student bylaws, with minor adjustments.
In the middle of the academic year 2013/2014 an escalation of activities of the opposition student movement took place. These included daily protests and silent demonstrations against the new government. The then interim president Adly Mansour made an amendment to the Law Regulating Universities to allow university presidents to expel students.
This amendment led to the cancellation of a number of necessary procedures that are to be followed before a final decision of expulsion can be reached. It opened the door for university presidents to put an end to the academic future of opposition students that are politically active in their universities. With the same intent, President al-Sisi issued a new decree, giving the president of al-Azhar University the same powers as presidents of public universities, to be able to expel students without going through disciplinary boards. these amendments, only disciplinary boards had the authority to expel students according to Article 127 of the section on disciplinary action against students, in the executive regulations of the Law Regulating Universities. But Article 184 (bis) gave university presidents the authority to directly expel students:
It can be argued that Al-Sisi’s administration has used the military justice system to expedite its harsh crackdown on civilian opponents in an attempt to re-inforce the powerful role of the military judiciary, which it enjoyed in the aftermath of the uprising in 2011. This has taken place in spite of various protests from activists and some politicians, stating that this practice is neither fair nor credible.
After a full academic year had passed since the July 3rd Coup, the movement of Muslim Brotherhood students was still on the rise in various public universities, and particularly at al-Azhar University. Violence was escalating as police forces attacked campuses and forcefully dispersed opposition student protests. Mass arrests would occur, and at times also killings. At the beginning of the academic year 2014/2015, the state resorted to intimidation tactics against students who participated in opposition political activities inside their university.
In October 2014, President al-Sisi issued Decree Law No. 136 for the year 2014. The decree was issued in order to protect “vital and public institutions”, where the armed forces are to coordinate with the police in order to protect these facilities, one of which is the university. The Law stipulates that vaguely defied ”crimes” or ”attacks” on certain public facilities fall under the jurisdiction of military law, referring anyone who commits any of these attacks to military prosecution, rather than referring them to public prosecution.
Not only has this decree been used to violate the students’ right to peaceful protest and expression inside their campuses, it also deprives them from their right to appear in front of a civilian judge, and infringes on their right to a fair trial, and breaches the Egyptian constitution. Article 204 of the constitution states: “Civilians cannot stand trial before military courts except for crimes that represent a direct assault against military facilities, military barracks, or whatever falls under their authority… or crimes that represent assault against its officers or personnel because of the performance of their duties” Passant Ahmed, Social Committee Officer at the Egyptian Student Union 2015/2016, refers to the law as ”the straw that broke the camel’s back; it violates academic freedom and our right to free expression. The university is becoming a military prison, rather than being a space for thought and creativity”

Military Trials

Qeshta, barely 20 years old at the time of her arrest, spent two years in prison after a military court ruled against her in 2014. Qeshta tells us ”I saw a fellow student being assaulted by campus security and decided to intervene to help him. Campus security then detained me and handed me to the police, but shortly after, I was released. However, when I went back to ask the police to take the injured student to a hospital, I was arrested again and was thrown in jail, along with other students who were arrested that day”.
Qeshta failed her exams two years in a row inside prison, mainly due to the inhumane conditions in prison. She was charged with vandalizing public facilities, terrorizing security personnel, and blocking the road, alleged accusations that warranted not only her arrest, but also her referral to a military court.
The expansion of military jurisdiction in Egypt makes it impossible to meet the requirements of fair trials; such courts are responsible for speedy and mass trials where due process guarantees are violated on a daily basis and at times, they fail to establish individual guilt. Moreover, the autonomy of such institution is in question; given the fact that they fall under the authority of the Ministry of Defense, an important pillar of the executive branch of the government, which takes orders from the executive.
Qeshta was not the only student subjected to a military trial.  Law No. 136 of 201447 that regards universities as military facilities resulted in the referral of 65 students to military prosecution for events taking place on campus in the three academic years covered in this report.48 Mansoura University witnessed the largest number of military trial referrals, with 22 students referred to military trials in the past three years, followed by al-Azhar University with 13 cases, and al-Zagazig University comes in third with 10 cases. It is important to note that 30 cases out of the 65 were referred to military prosecution for charges they had allegedly committed before the law was passed. Thus, violating the principle of the impermissibility of the retroactive application of the law, which would invalidate these trials.


In February 2014, a court sentenced Asmaa Hamdy, a dental student at al-Azhar University, along with four of her colleagues to fie years in prison and a fine of 100,000 EGP, on charges of carrying unlicensed weapons, using violence against security forces, and damaging public and private property. The fine students were in prison for three years before a court ruling found them innocent in September 2016, and they were fially acquitted shortly after. Asmaa and her colleagues were arrested inside al-Azhar University for participating in on-campus protests after the army overthrew the former President. Asmaa suspects the security forces of kidnapping  her
fincée, as numbers of enforced disappearances are increasing in Egypt (estimates are in the hundreds51). She is currently leading a campaign demanding the authorities to locate his whereabouts and requesting his immediate release. Asmaa is just one example of the many students who lost years of their lives in prison as a result of the random arrest campaigns that security forces would launch on protests inside universities. In February 2014, Mohamed Abdel khalik, a student at Cairo University, was walking out of the Metro station heading to campus when police forces, present in abundance after clashes had taken place between students and security forces, stopped, searched, and arrested him because they suspected him to be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood organization.52 They arrested him and 42 others.
Mohamed’s friend Salah al-Din Mohamed, also one of the 43 arrested, states that he was not even on campus that day. After he heard the news of his friend’s arrest, he decided to head down to the station to find out what had happened.
The police at the station searched Salah’s personal belongings and his electronic tablet device, where they learnt that he had posted comments on Facebook that criticized the incumbent regime. Salah was arrested and added to the same case. Both friends and 41 other students were charged with murder, attempted murder, joining a terrorist organization, and protesting without a license. They were released on the 28th of September 2014 after the case was closed. They spent eight months in jail without any legal conviction. They were not the only victims, and these are only a few
among the stories of the 1181 students54 who were arrested inside and around university campuses the past three years.
From the 1181 student arrests in the past three academic years, 998 students were arrested in the fist academic year following the July Coup alone. The same year there was large student mobilization, led by the Students Against the Coup Movement. Muslim Brotherhood students constituted the largest percentage of the movement’s active members at the time.
The number of arrests decreased in the following years but stayed high in the year 2014/2015 with 162 student arrests, and reached 21 in the year 2015/2016. This sharp decline does not necessarily signal a change in the repressive policies of the security apparatus. Rather, it reflects an evident weakening of the student movement after a series of intensive security blows targeting student activists and student unions. The arrests did not only target Muslim Brotherhood students, but also students who were part of secular parties.
Students were arrested from coffee shops and given charges such as attacking police officers and stealing their weapons, burning police cars, disrupting exams, and blocking and vandalizing public road Al-Azhar University witnessed the biggest share of protests against the July Coup since day one of the 2013/2014 academic year. This is due to the fact that many students within al-Azhar University are members of, or sympathize with, the Muslim Brotherhood, partially because of al-Azhar’s history as a religious institution. Al-Azhar University alone witnessed 637 student arrests, which represents more than 54% of the total student arrests inside or around universities in the past three academic years. Police forces arrested 112 students in al-Mansoura University, and 83 students in Alexandria University. Police and administrations of many universities accused Muslim Brotherhood students of being involved in violence inside campuses. The state used this as a reason to justify police intervention in universities. There are rare cases where students initiated violence. Nevertheless, in those cases, any acts of violence committed by students should be appropriately investigated and prosecuted.