Fatma el Shenawy
The recently reunified Egyptian Student Union (ESU) held one of its major conferences earlier this month to discuss the formation of a common constitution to be applied to students of all Egyptian universities. The conference ended in disagreement between public and private universities about the content and nature of the proposed document.
In an effort to unite students across Egypt to improve the country, the ESU became effective once again after it was disbanded in 1979 due to problems with the government, with 24 Egyptian universities joining the student coalition from a total of existing 32 universities.
According to Mohamed Alaa, Awareness and Development head of AUC’s SU and an ESU member, as well as AUC SU President and ESU Head of Public Relations Ahmed Alaa Fayed, all private universities present at the conference did not agree on the drafted constitution.
Cairo University was the only public university to refuse the document due to several faults that all the parties found.
“The first problem with the constitution was that it was written by various public universities without the involvement of any of the private universities,” said Mohamed Alaa.
Other problems with the proposed document included the presence of a certain clause that did not give space for freedom of student activities and prohibited the presence of any political parties on university campuses.
Moreover, it stated that there would be no supervising authority on the student unions, which might turn the SU presidents in Egyptian universities into “pharaohs” as described by the disagreeing parties.
Despite the politics of AUC, had all the ESU board members approved the constitution, it would have been implemented without any referendum.
“After all members agreed on the constitution, it would then be sent to the Minister of Higher Education to be reviewed and checked that it was consistent with Egypt’s education regulations and the clauses of the constitutional declaration,” said Fayed.
“Then it would have been implemented without a referendum being held to determine the opinion of the university students,” he added.
Logistics also played a role in why some of the board members were not willing to continue with the way things were taking place at the conference.
One of the causes of the dispute was the chosen location of the conference, which took place at property belonging to the Egyptian Air Force Defense. The conference also took place during the Maspero events that occurred earlier this month, where people were dissatisfied with the Supreme Council of Armed Forces’ (SCAF) actions.
Mariam Osman, former General Manager of the Egyptian Student Union in AUC and an active member of the ESU, said, “We decided not to go to the conference, but then we went to participate.”
Fayed added, “Our meeting was video and audio recorded.”
Osman believes the conference failed to do its purpose, therefore, the issue became the responsibility of Amr Ibrahim, Ain Shams SU President, and who is now in charge of students’ rights in the ESU.
Osman said, “A lot of things were going wrong, but we are now back on the right track. I have trust in Amr.”
Ibrahim commented that the location was chosen for logistic purposes only. As for the video cameras, they were for security reasons.
When asked about whether he believes that SCAF might interfere in their decision-making, Ibrahim said, “I don’t believe there would be any interference. We are an independent student movement.”
A photograph has been posted recently on the ESU’s facebook group titled “student constitution.” However, all the points that Alaa, Fayed, and Osman claimed were missing from the document were present in that version of the constitution. Ibrahim explained that these were points that the student leaders wanted to see in the constitution and that they have agreed upon after the conference.
In an attempt to improve the function of the ESU and for it to serve its vision, an upcoming newer version of the constitution is being drafted.
“Probably the upcoming constitution would include a part that applies for public universities only, which students in public universities only will vote on. The other part applies on all universities, public and private, which all students will vote on,” said Ibrahim.
It might even be possible that the constitution would apply on public universities, and be optional for private universities, as explained by Alaa, which will play a role on who will be able to vote in the referendum.
Osman added that for the next meeting, each university student union will be present their vision for what should be in the constitution and that all the attendees will discuss it.
“We are addressing all student governments and leaders in all universities, human rights organizations, as well as candidates for presidential elections to get their support. This is a movement that includes all student movements, and we are trying to address everyone, without any biases or eliminating any student force,” said Osman.