Dalia Abbas & Deena Abdelmonem
Workers of AUC’s Tahrir campus found themselves on the front lines of clashes that occurred last month between protestors and Central Security Forces (CSF).
Although university property sustained some damage, security and maintenance employees worked overtime hours to ensure looters did not enter the campus or cause more damage to it.
Badr Mohamed Ibrahim, an AUC security supervisor, was on duty at the Tahrir campus during last month’s events.
“Since the recent uprisings, workers at the Tahrir campus took a vacation right away. It was just the security and maintenance staff that stayed at the university for 24 hours at a time throughout the whole campus. Maintenance stayed to fix things that may have been damaged. Doctors also began staying with us for 24 hours at a time as many of our staff inhaled the tear gas,” he recounts.
“As soon as something happened, security was on the scene right away. We tried to solve things in a calm manner because there were good and bad people among those in Tahrir at the time. It was important for us to protect our university using only peaceful means. If we used force with anyone, they would retaliate possibly using weapons, and it is against university policy that security guards carry weapons,” he explains.
The security guards found themselves to be a vital source during those events: “At the time, there was no police; all the university’s buildings on Mohamed Mahmoud St. and Kasr El Aini St. did not have any police around them, so we had to protect the premises so no damage can be done to our university.”
Although things were difficult at first, Ibrahim explained that the university eventually responded to their situation.
“The university began to help us. They brought us meals and would visit us everyday to see what we needed. Our supervisors also spent the night with us here. This also gave the workers morale – to see their bosses being with them 24 hours,” he said.
Dr. Hani Sayed, assistant professor of law, visited the workers often along with Dr. Hanan Sabea of the anthropology department, and brought them supplies.
“AUC Tahrir especially at this time was at the fault line (of clashes) and (the guards) had the role of being there making sure that the campus is safe from looters and protecting the integrity of the place as a whole, as well as protecting the neutrality of the place. This is a really important thing,” he explains.
He elaborates, “The neutrality of AUC (means) making sure that university is about everybody. It is not about a place for state security or a place for the army to use like a haven. It’s an academic place so they are protecting that too. Their role is to protect the neutrality of AUC in a situation that is politically very complex.”
Dr. Sayed acknowledges that these events were well out of the security guards’ experience and took them by surprise.
“They were really in a tough spot, and they were caught unprepared for (these events). It’s not that they needed further training; they just didn’t have basic things (such as) proper masks. They were working long shifts, sometimes 12-hours shifts. Even eight-hour shifts are too long for such a high intensity job. They didn’t have food. The only way they could get food (was by leaving) the campus to go and get food, and one of the security guards was caught in the middle and couldn’t get back,” he explains.
Despite these initial obstacles, the administration and faculty and student volunteers responded right away to accommodate the security’s needs.
“I was impressed with how efficient and effective the guards were doing. They were capable of paying attention to a crisis moment, defining priorities, establishing a direct communication line with President Anderson, which was a key to solving the situation, but at the same time we (volunteers) coordinated to provide for them until the institution acted in a proper way. I told Dr. Hanan that our mission was almost like the Red Cross. We were observing and fact-finding and telling different parties what needs to be done. Our role was really just people who saw and recorded what was missing, and made sure that the message was given to decision makers,” he explains.
Once things were directed to the proper channels, “the response was very quick; within a couple of days, the security workers had their stock of masks, gloves, special suits to help them put out a fire, steady supply of food – one warm meal per shift, so the quickness of response was amazing,” Dr. Sayed explains.
Dr. Sayed also explains that President Anderson was in the middle of the riots when she was checking up on the situation at the Tahrir campus, which he says “is good; I don’t think any other president would have done that, so that became an interesting collaboration.”
Regardless, Dr. Sayed believes the university should be better prepared for these events given the campus’ location and the political situation in Egypt.
“It’s been almost a year since the Jan. 25 revolution. It is apparent that Tahrir is a political center of Egypt, and it has become clear since a least March of last year that things like this would happen at Tahrir. I was expecting that they would be prepared in Tahrir – there would be contingency plan for getting food, that there would be all the pieces in place. I really hope that such a plan will be put in place,” he says.
Amr Abaza, a business senior who was also among the volunteers at Tahrir, explains the volunteers’ cause saying, “We are trying to initiate that the administration give compensation to the workers in Tahrir, especially security guards who have been there protecting the campus during the events in November.”
He also praises the security guards’ efforts: “They got exposed to gas and threats of intrusions, and they had to step up their game and actually do something about it even though they didn’t have to, but they stood there and they took the gas and they took the bullets and they took everything that came with it and now everything is fine. These people risked their lives to protect AUC property and adequately, and they should be compensated for doing so.”