The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression followed the latest news cited on a number of websites regarding the letter from the Minister of Higher Education, Dr. Wael El Degwy, to the presidents of Egyptian public universities earlier last week, with great concern. The content of the letter was leaked on a number of news websites and it came as follows:
“I am honored to brief you on the report I received from the Major General A.H., the Secretary General of the Council of Ministers, regarding the report written by the Ministry of Defence’s Crisis Management Committee on the 12th of March 2014, concerning the problems facing Egyptian youth, and how to capitalize on their positive energy. The report concluded the following regarding Egyptian universities:
1- organizing various seminars within university campuses to discuss the negative attributes of the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist group, as well as revealing its plans with the help of their dissident leaders.
2- studying the possibility of creating a so-called “self-security for students” inside university campuses, in order to help the campuses’ administrative security personnel.
3- university presidents and deans of faculties are to coordinate with the concerned security apparatuses, in order to immediately intervene and eliminate the ignoble groups in university dormitories. This should be carried out through applying a set of firm rules and regulations in order to punish the violators of these rules”.
The minister then issued a press release clarifying the issue of self-security for students, claiming that “this issue has to do with students playing a role in protecting university buildings from attack or sabotage, especially after what some universities were exposed to from acts of violence and vandalism during this academic semester”.
The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression asserts its full rejection of this letter, in form and substance, since this message reflects an explicit orientation towards the restoration of the security grip on Egyptian universities, and a systematic approach towards reinstating the status of Egyptian universities prior to the 25th of January.
This letter also raises concerns to those who pertain to academic affairs, regarding the management of higher education in Egypt, and the role of the ministry and the Supreme Council of Universities in such affairs. These concerns are specific to this example, given the fact that the Ministry of Defence’s Crisis Management Committee is a party to the decision-making process regarding one of the most important threats facing the educational process in Egyptian universities today.
Which raises questions regarding the suitability of several decisions taken by these entities, and their understanding of concepts such as, University Autonomy and students’ rights and freedoms.
The decisions that were mentioned in the minister’s letter to university presidents reflect a real setback to University Autonomy; using students as part of the process of the conflict between those who are in power now, and the “Students Against the Coup” movement of the Muslim Brotherhood, directly threatens the peaceful nature of universities. It is also alarming because it entails violence that is more dangerous to the lives of the students, as well as, on the functioning of the educational process, than the violence that took place on various university campuses in the current academic year.
The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression stresses on the fact that the absence of a true understanding of the implications of the concept of University Autonomy, by those who are responsible for carrying out the educational process in universities, is what led to such proposals. These proposals only attempt to address the administrations’ failure through involving the students in a conflict that is meant to drag Egyptian universities into a vicious circle of violence.
This brings to mind the events of the seventies; when the various university administrations- under the guidance of the authorities- used the students of the Islamic movement to confront students of the political left, and the violence and sabotage this brought to university campuses.
It is also important to note that resorting to such solutions in order to maintain security within the university raises concerns regarding the ability of the current authorities- represented in the Ministry of Higher Education, and the rest of the government agencies- in dealing with the dire challenges facing Egyptian universities.
Hence, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression demands the concerned entities to assume their responsibility in maintaining a secure environment within university campuses; an environment that protects the students’ lives, safeguards the autonomy of the university and the freedom of its students, and an environment that does not force students to be a part of the circle of violence between the state and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression calls all those concerned with university affairs and university autonomy, and all who are keen on the gains that were achieved within universities after the January 25th revolution, to stand against the policies and the approach of the Ministry of Higher Education that emphasize the desire of the existing authorities to regain complete control over universities.