With the advent of a new age in Egyptian politics, the American University in Cairo administration has recently announced a new freedom of expression policy. A panel of students, faculty and staff members has participated in writing the policy.
A member of the task force confirmed that a first draft of the policy – which was completed in a three-hour meeting last week – will be circulated electronically to members of the AUC community for feedback.
“A policy like this can’t be rushed … although there is the drive (among the members of the panel) to get it done as soon as possible so that we could implement it right away,” said Rebecca Campbell, a political science and anthropology senior involved in writing the policy. The first draft of the policy clearly states: “AUC upholds the rights to freedom of belief, expression and assembly … individuals within the AUC community have both a right to register complaints about abuse of authority and a right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
The draft goes on to explain that a permanent office will be established to receive these complaints as of next semester. Until then, a temporary special complaints panel will be established. External legal officials will join in these efforts to ensure fairness in hearing and reporting complaints to the president, provost and vice-president. The only exception to free speech, as stated in the draft, is “language that might incite violence or otherwise represent immediate danger.”
The old policy prohibited “groupings of a religious, political, or ideological nature in the University or any of its related units.” Student demonstrations were restricted to assembly hour and had to be “humanitarian” in nature. The university required any potential student sit-ins to go through a process of authorization by the office of student development and the AUC security office, and reserved the right to deny requests for student assemblies. Campbell, who looks forward to having the draft presented to the AUC community, asserted that she hopes the community will comment on it: “This is for all of us, students, faculty, staff, administration, workers, everyone.”
She added that she hopes the efforts of the task force and the AUC community will create a strong policy to replace the old policy, which she believes was long overdue for a change. “Freedom of expression is an inherent and necessary part of education,” Campbell added. Dina Aboulfotouh, the director of special initiatives in the president’s office, coordinated the task force writing the policy. She attributed the efforts to the people who were really behind it were the students, faculty and staff members involved in the writing of the policy.
In an email sent out to the AUC community, President Anderson stated that the restrictive policies AUC enforced in the past are “neither necessary nor desirable in Egypt today.”
She added that the change in policy was prompted by: “the removal of many of the legal and political restrictions on public life in Egypt.”
In an email recruiting members for the task force, Anderson described the goals of the initiative, Anderson wrote: “We need a document that sets out the policies for speech and expression at AUC and the procedures by which these policies will be implemented.”
Obadah Fahmy, a computer science sophomore, was skeptical of the new policy: “It’s great that these changes are being made and that the university is becoming more open to change, but until I see for myself that the draft is accessible to the AUC community, I won’t have any high hopes that I can just walk into an office and submit a complaint about an incompetent professor, for instance.” Nourhan Abdelaziz, a political science junior, said that the policy is irrelevant: “It implies that before the policy was created, students (at AUC) could not speak their mind and if that is true then this should not be called a liberal arts university.”