CAIRO: The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) issued a statement Wednesday condemning Minister of Higher Education Al-Sayyed Abdel Khaleq’s decision to ban any political activity on university campuses starting in the next academic year.
The statement published on ANHRI’s website considered the decision as a “severe violation of human rights and freedom of expression and a form of undermining the students’ political participation.”
“We are calling on Abdel Khaleq to withdraw this decision and allow students to practice their right to get involved in the political process since it is a guaranteed right for everyone,” according to the statement.
Abdel Khaleq had said during a meeting Tuesday that the next academic year will witness major changes concerning the priorities of student activates due to last year’s events, referring to the clashes between students and security forces over political protests. He assured that the ban of political activities and agendas is to maintain security on university campuses and the stability of the education process.
Egyptian universities, especially Azhar and Cairo Universities, witnessed many demonstrations last year, which escalated into violence after the dispersal of the Rabaa al-Adaweya and Nahda Squares sit-in. Most of the demonstrations were organized by pro-Muslim brotherhood students who raised the Rabaa signs and photos of ousted President Mohamed Morsi.
Azhar University issued a statement on Dec. 2013 following the clashes, describing the students who participated as “outlaws” since they attacked a number of university professors and employees. “For the interests of thousands, we called security forces to officially interfere on university campus and take all the precautions to secure the people and facilities. We had assured that the education process will not be delayed under any circumstances,” according to their statement.
Pro-Brotherhood students had surrounded the office of head of Al-Azhar University Osama Al-Abd, at first just chanting for Rabaa and Morsi several times, he had told Sada Al-Balad in Oct. 2013. But the events escalated and he demanded security to interfere and use teargas to disperse the demonstrations on March 2013, according to MENA.
The return of security guards on university campuses caused controversy, especially after the pro-Muslim Brotherhood students’ protests. Some experts said security forces from the Ministry of Interior should not be allowed on university campuses after their previous violations during former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Others however said that security forces are currently needed to ban any possible attacks on people or facilities, particularly by pro-Muslim Brotherhood students.
Former Prime Minister Hazem Al-Beblawy said in statement in Nov. 2013 that security guards must return onto university campuses under any form to halt the demonstrations that turn into violent riots. Former Minister of Higher Education Salah Eissa disagreed about the decision, describing it as a “restriction of freedoms” and warned that he would resign if the Cabinet insisted, according to Al-Wafd. He had suggested increasing the number of civilian guards instead.
Abdel Khaleq revealed his intentions to bring back Ministry of Interior security forces to university campuses once the administrative court issues its final verdict, he said in an interview with Masr fi Youm television show Monday. The ministry will find a way to allow the guards to only maintain stability inside universities. “The students are not in a feud with the security forces,” he added.
Head of researching department in ANHRI Lamiaa Mahmoud told The Cairo Post that there are many other alternative solutions to secure universities instead of banning political activities for students and bringing back security forces. “The ministry could have rationed political participation with clear rules that bans any calls for protests or a particular party during the lectures, which could be a very good solution,” she said.
There are other reasons for people to demonstrate on university campuses besides political causes. “Where should they demonstrate or protest peacefully and express their opinions if universities ban it?” she said. Egypt is committed to international agreements and is obliged to ensure the right of peaceful protests, which means that this decision is a violation of international law.
When asked whether this decision would allow security forces to arrest students since they will start express their opinion off university campus instead, Mahmoud said that security forces were already arresting the students during their demonstrations inside the university. “The point is no one has the right to ban political activity inside the university, whoever they might be,” she added.