Revolution comes to AUC

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011
Gigi Ibrahim

Students voiced their concerns in an open forum for the fi rst time. Pictured above: Gigi Ibrahim and President Anderson

Gihan “Gigi” Ibrahim, an AUC alumna turned celebrity activist, became the center of a debate after she told Jon Stewart, during an appearance on The Daily Show, that a political science class at AUC was a catalyst for her political activism.

“You had to get in touch with the right people,” she told Stewart. “I was not aware that there was a great opposition movement [existing] for decades.”

Stereotyped by the Egyptian public as lattesipping, liberal elitists who do not share the plight of the ‘everyday Egyptian,’ AUCians returned to university life only two days after former president Hosni Mubarak resigned on February 11.

What followed was an unprecedented show of political activism on and off campus in the spirit that had characterized the revolution.

Rather than the isolated island it was once perceived as, AUC’s New Campus mirrored the development of the rest of Egypt, embracing a new understanding of populist power. Egality, human and inalienable rights, and justice became the hot new topics trending on AUC Twitter accounts.

AUCians found their voices in the new political realities that slowly began to dawn in the new Egypt. Long stifled and suppressed they began to express themselves on blogs. According to an Internet monitoring organization, web use jumped 15 percent in the past three months in Egypt.

So much for trying to pull the plug and disconnect the people from the Internet.

A movement that embodied this new spirit is “Tahrir AUC,” a formerly anonymous group initiated by four AUCians, which called on guarantees of transparency and political rights from the administration.

Its members and supporters demanded that the administration embrace the freedom heralded by the January 25 Revolution, condemning and raising awareness about restrictions on political assembly, participation and expression on campus.

tear gas canister

AUC’s Tahrir Campus was used by security forces to fi re on protesters on January 28. Pictured above: teargas canisters collected from Old Campus gardens.

“We will not allow for fear to run our lives, we will attend our classes, provided that the administration treats us with respect and gives us all of the information of the workings of the university, that we all deserve as members of this AUC community,” one of their online communiqués on their blog stated.

Almost a month after refusing to reveal who is behind the movement, with its blog and Facebook page as its only referral, Tahrir AUC saw its message fleshed out in protests against AUC’s restrictive policies.

A new approach to student activity on campus was to be adapted, and the doers of past injustices and political limitations were to stand trial in front of the AUC community.

General Ashraf Kamal, the head of the Security Office and a former Amn Dawla [SSI] officer, and Mohamed Dabbour, the director of the Office of Student Development (OSD), were blamed by many students for the restrictions on student activities which abounded before the revolution. Tahrir AUC claimed that these individuals held political affiliations to the now defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) and State Security.

In an earlier issue, The Caravan published a two part piece exposing the extent of how the political restrictions suffered by AUCians were associated with the NDP’s oppressive policies.

student protest

Students protested for the removal of Ashraf Kamal and Mohammed Dabbour.

Although the protest calling on the two administrators to resign did not see a high turnout, the subject stirred student attention at the Speakers’ Corner.

The weekly open-mic event has become a forum for those in the AUC community to express any concerns they may have.

During the first Speakers’ Corner event, AUC President Lisa Anderson heard students complain about the inefficiency and political biases of the OSD; one student had described it as a filter, rather than facilitator, of student activities. Kamal, whose connection to State Security also caused recent controversy, submitted his letter of resignation last week.

In another Speakers’ Corner event, a number of students forcibly removed a plaque honoring former First Lady Suzanne Mubarak, who was until recently under investigation by the Public Prosecutor on corruption and graft charges.

The former First Lady has since returned millions of pounds at the center of the graft investigation and has been released on bail.

The university denounced the unilateral decision to remove the plaque without consulting senior administrators, only to suspend the name later during the semester.

Suzanne Mubarak Hall

During the semester, students seized the initiative and removed the plaque marking Suzanne Mubarak Hall.

Shortly after the former First Lady’s name came down off of AUC’s walls, a court ruling decreed the removal of Mubarak and his wife’s names and images from all public facilities and institutions.

President Anderson, who promised students a less conservative institution in many respects, was confronted with a throng of students from the Palestinian Al-Quds Club at one of these meetings.

The students were seized with the question of AUC’s continuing practice of barring political figures such as Norman Finkelstein from giving public addresses. Finkelstein is barred from entering Israel on Tel Aviv’s claims that he has ties to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Islamist organization.

Anderson gave consent for his invitation on the spot.

“The removal of many of the legal and political restrictions on public life in Egypt affords an opportunity for us to review our own policies and practices to make sure that they are consistent with the values we embrace,” Anderson confirmed in an email.

Anderson appointed a Task Force, made up of students and faculty, to review and re-write the freedom of expression policy.

The old policy, which was created by former president Richard F. Pedersen, was thought to be restrictive of political and religious activities on campus.

In a scene which mirrored that of striking labor unions in Tahrir Square, AUC workers and staff gathered in front of the Administration building earlier this semester, continuing to press for the realization of their demands.

They called for a minimum wage of EGP 1200.

Talks between university workers and administrators had been ongoing since last October, and despite AUC’s growing deficit, it was able to comply with the workers’ demands.

Additionally, the formation of a new independent syndicate marked a departure from following in the footsteps of the old syndicate, which was officially instituted by the ineffective Egyptian Federation

of trade union institution.

Some students, who had been calling on Facebook for the reduction of university fees, plan to postpone their activities, hoping to resume in Fall 2011.

Noor Ayman, one of the AUC alumni and activist, thinks that AUC students’ activism and involvement this semester is a reflection effect of the revolution.

“After the revolution more people were encouraged to be politically engaged; before, students were afraid that they might have a file in the State Security,” Ayman said.

On the other hand, Sarah Abdelrahman, a student activist and journalism and theatre major, believes

students have become more passive.

Abdelrahman thinks student have simply grown tired of protesting. She reflects on the high turnout of students after the New Year bombing in Alexandria, in comparison to the lack of student response regarding the church burning in Imbaba a few weeks ago.

“However, students are encouraged more on the side of lectures and activities, and it’s fine to focus on the learning process more than revolting as learning is more beneficial,” she said.