- December 23, 2006
- 18 minutes read
Free Student Union: We Promote Freedom Among Students
The Free Student Union is anew experiment within the Egyptian universities. It started as an idea some years ago but it only materialized this year, and the students appeared satisfied with the experiment as it brought to existence the hope for free and fair election, with several human rights and a number of university professors monitoring the election process. Strikingly, the students didn’t stop at holding election within faculties only, but it expanded to included election at the university level, which opened the door before many students belonging to political organizations to engage in the experiment especially after the authorities monopolized the university- affiliated Student Union as was the case with the Labor Union election where candidates were appointed by official quarters rather than elected by workers.
khwanweb had an interview with secretary general of Egypt’s Natoinal Free Students’ Union, Amr Hamed, a student of Faculty of Medicine, Cairo University, who is the first one to assume this position since the government enforced Charter 79 which dissolved the National Students’ Union. The interview dealt with the new experiment in particular and the Muslim Brotherhood activities in general.
Q: Can you give us a background of your student activity?
A: I joined the Muslim Brotherhood when I was in my second year of medical school. When I approached students affiliated with the MB years ago; I admired their moderate way of thinking and their resolve to offer services to their fellow students without seeking personal interests. I also found the MB students hold fast to their principles whatever hardships they encounter. I joined them and stood for the free student union election last year when I won the seat of secretary general of cultural committee, of course after I was kicked off the official election. This year, I ran for the election again and was eventually chosen secretary general of Free Student Union representing the entire Egyptian universities.
Q: What did you feel when you won this position?
A: I felt sad that Egyptian students had no option but to resort to this route, but we didn’t embark on this step untill we were denied our natural right to stand as candidates in the official election, let alone to win any seats. However, I was satisfied with the attitude of the Egyptian universities’ students who struggled until they gained one of their usurped rights.
Q: What are Muslim Brotherhood’s intellectual launching points?
A: The Muslim Brotherhood students adopt an all encompassing vision of reform which includes all students affairs topped by their freedoms; the independence of the university by seeking to have charter 79 revoked; and stopping the security meddling with the university’s affairs and student activities in all their forms which only exist through cultural social, artistic, sport and scout committees within the union. A leaflet containing the MB vision was handed out to the university students.
Q: What is the MB students’ vision toward political reform?
A: They regard the political reform as one of their priorities, out of conviction that the reform of this nation starts with the reform of its universities. So the MB students will exert their utmost efforts to reform the university and will participate in any reform related activities.
Q: How do you respond to voices which call for banning political activities in universities and restricting them to academic studies?
A: Such vision is adopted by shortsighted persons, since universities have been and still are the suitable place where generations can be groomed to lead their nation in all fields. If the student is excluded from the political action in university, he/she will fail to exercise this right in other national elections including municipal, parliamentary or presidential elections. Besides, this vision proved a failure now that we see student activities on the rise day by day, and we saw how many students participated in the Free Student Union election in 15 universities.
Q: You held the Free Student Union election without approval from the university, don’t you think that this is violation of legitimacy?
A: I don’t see this a violation of legitimacy, since we know that the nation is the source of power, and the true legitimacy is that gained through fair and free election . Rather, I see that it is the university administration that violated legitimacy when it disregarded the students rights, and suffice it to say that throughout years the judiciary has revoked official election within university .
Q: What are the ultimate goals of the Free Student Union?
A: First, the Free Student Union is a declaration of rejecting the policy of persecution of students and denying their right to choose whomever to represent them and restore the student activities which have been stopped for years amid absence of a genuine student union.
Q: How did the Free Student Union election go ?
A: First of all, we sought to avoid all the passive acts we saw in the official election. We opened the door for candidacy for about 4 days to be a sufficient period of time, and gave students such easy access to the election that the student can only vote with his faculty card without need to seek another means to give his / her vote. We also set two days for the election propaganda, and we didn’t exclude anyone from joining the election. We were keen to hold fair and free election, so we invited university teaching staff members and human rights agencies to monitor the election. For the first time the students have cast their votes in glass, transparent ballet boxes. About 15000 students in 15 universities participated, and we expected more to participate but the threats and hooliganism scared many away from participation. A large number of non MB students, including other trends or independents won in the election; even Coptic students participated and some of them won seats in the union. As for the MB students, they won 30% of the total seats in the free student union at Ein Shams University, which illustrates how fair and free the election was.
Q: Is there any coordination with other trends such as the Nasserite party or the university backed union, and whether coordination with other trends is on your agenda?
A: We have coordinated with other trends, as was the case last year when we formed a student action front which embraced all trends and groups within university under the name ” Our University”. As regards the university – backed union, we have called on its members to cooperate with us in our Free Student Union which students see at their genuine representative.
Q: Why did the tension escalate into clashes between you and the university administration as was the case in Cairo, Helwan and Mansoura and other universities? And it is said that the MB students resort to violence to achieve their goals, is it true?
A: These are groundless claims, since the MB students shun violence, but when the regime has failed to dissuade students from claiming their rights and pursuing reform of university, it has come to resort to terror and violence.
Q: The university arena suffers a number of problems, what are these problems and what mechanisms do you adopt to resolve them?
A: The problems are the security interference in university affairs, the infamous statute 79, the measures taken by the university to impede the student activities, and the high cost of university fees and textbooks.
Q: What is the Free Student Union’s program this year ?
A: The union will first tackle the public issues which concern students, mainly to stop security agencies from meddling with the university affairs, to call for revoking the infamous statute 79, and to demand the officials to put an end to the growing high costs of fees and books. On parallel with these issues, we will restore the cultural, social , artistic and scientific and other activities which the students have long been denied.
Q: some say that it is the Muslim Brotherhood which promoted for the Free Student Union within university?
A: Absolutely not, since the MB students are but a part of this union which is mobilized and directed by the student electorate who were behind the success of this experiment. Besides, the Free Student Union will be represented by all social and political spectrums, Muslim Brotherhood, leftists, Muslims and Copts alike, to name but a few.
Q: who will finance your activities, and will this cause you a problem?
A: This does not pose any problem to us, since we intend to count on the non conditional donations offered by the participating students who regard the newly born union as their own project and issue. And I am sure that the students will continue to offer material and moral backing to make it a success.
Q: Can you give us examples of troubles encountered by the MB students due to their participation in the Free Student Union?
A: 23 students from Helwan University were detained , and the authorities launched numberless crackdowns on those who participated in the Free Student Union election nationwide.
Q: Did the security agencies’ threats have any negative impacts on students?
A: On the contrary, the students weathered the storm and emerged victorious, and the security agencies’ threats only strengthened their resolve to continue participating in the election until the very end, defying threats and all forms of persecution
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Ahmed Mansour, Ikhwanweb – Cairo, Egypt