Editorial: Representation and transparency

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Hundreds of students from different universities marched last week to Parliament. They had four main demands: No constitution under military rule; no presidential elections under military rule; swift trials of all those responsible for killing protesters; and finally, student representation on the committee that will draft the country's constitution.

I am not so sure that last one is going to guarantee that representative student voices will be heard. If this request is granted, which students will be chosen to participate in the drafting process? Will it be the ones who marched to Parliament? Will their selection be democratic, and more importantly, transparent?

Among the marchers was a self-proclaimed elected delegation of 13 students who were meant to go into parliament and deliver the students' message to the People's Assembly's education and youth committees as well as the PA Speaker Mohamed Saad El Katatni. However, these students were denied entry to the parliament building and seven other students were let in for unknown reasons. Obviously the 13-student delegation were outraged and refused the offer to have three of them join the seven inside (10 students were meant to meet with MPs that day).

They accused the seven of being affiliated with State Security (rebranded into National Security) or being members of the Muslim Brotherhood, etc. Regardless of whether or not these accusations are true, one can easily imagine it was rather a lack of organization on the part of the MPs involved) the delegation had the right to be indignant. Or so it would seem on the surface. We need to examine how these 13 were chosen in the first place. Presumably the 13 representatives from public universities were chosen by their student unions, although the process of selection was never published to the public - an alarming problem in of itself. We do know, however, that the 13th warrior representing AUC was chosen through internal elections within a body called the "AUC Student Movement."

The question then becomes, what gives this "AUC Student Movement," a body of less than 100 unelected students such executive powers. They would argue, with some validity, that they are the only ones taking action, as recent student marches prove. The fact remains that they are unelected. The would also argue that if such a representative were to be chosen by popular vote of the student body, it would quickly become the popularity contest we see every year in student government elections. And they would be right.

The problem here is not that they elected a person from within their own ranks, for that is indeed the more practical and effective solution. What is an issue, however, is labeling themselves as students, regardless of whether or not they clarify that they do not represent the entire student body. It all boils down to the roles we choose to adopt, or the hats we wear if you will. It is unethical for one to wear more than one.

If you're going to be a revolutionary then fine, you do not need popular mandate. Mubarak would have won a referendum fairly in February but the right thing was to oust him and the revolutionaries did, without the majority's consent. However, going to parliament and speaking on behalf of one of the country's largest sectors - students - does require popular mandate. And popular mandate can only be achieved through elections and a transparent publicized process, not behind closed doors and amongst a minority, no matter how active and admirable this minority is. Furthermore, the argument that they are not representing the entire student body but rather a certain group is problematic as well. Why does this certain group get special privileges, what about all other groups on campus?

This is an opportunity squandered. Instead of representing the interests of the entire student body and gaining real legitimacy, it was wasted on furthering the views of like-minded individuals. Finally, if you want to be revolutionaries and not reformers, that's fine. In my opinion even better, but do not select representatives and make demands as anything more than just yourselves. One hat at a time, please.