Since Sunday, students and employees of American University in Cairo (AUC), Egypt’s most elite university, have been staging a mass strike and sit-in, says the Guardian. Citing an “exorbitant” tuition fee hike, the alleged exploitation of local workers and “disputed claims over the university’s conduct” during the Egyptian uprising earlier this year, over a thousand students are estimated to have joined the demonstration, which has continued despite attempts at mediation and a university-wide forum.
Students chanting “get out thieves” and “Lisa, where did our money go?” have surrounded the office of AUC’s president, Lisa Anderson, who has said that the tuition increase was necessary due to the university’s budget deficit. AUC’s tuition of $17,000 is certainly far less than US students pay. But about 44 percent of Egypt’s population is in the range of “extremely poor to poor”; average per capita income in Egypt ranges from $6,200 to $6,367. In other words, tuition at AUC is already far beyond the reach of most Egyptians and a 9 percent fee hike only makes it even more so.
As the Guardian notes, AUC has “long been considered a breeding-ground for Egypt’s future political and business power brokers,” with a student body that is “more associated with designer labels than direct action.” Says recent graduate Sarah Abdel-Rahman:
“The revolution has affected all of us. Now if you have demands, you believe that they should and can be met, and you’re not going to give up. It’s not like the past anymore, and I think the university administration are yet to realise that.”
“By becoming active ourselves we’re shifting the perception of AUC – people can now see that we’re not just a bunch of spoiled kids, but rather a community with legitimate demands whose parents can’t afford to keep paying thousands more pounds every semester.”
AUC is also being accused regarding its treatment of its staff, some of whom are said to work without contracts, insurance or benefits for up to 16 hours a day. An award-winning software designer and AUC fellow, Moatz Shawki, was fired in July after disagreeing with Anderson:
Shawki had been demanding answers from his employers over a hotly contested allegation that pro-Mubarak snipers were allowed to use the university’s downtown premises to target anti-government demonstrators in Tahrir Square; a photo of him apparently being manhandled off the AUC campus by private security guards has since circulated on the internet.
AUC said that Shawki’s dismissal had nothing to do with the sniper issue, which is the subject of an ongoing investigation. “The university authorities were first alerted to the existence of snipers on the roof of the Tahrir campus buildings in mid-February, shortly after we resumed operations,” said Anderson, a political science academic who took charge of AUC last year. “We immediately contacted the public prosecutor’s office and have co-operated fully since then.”
Students also say that state security has interfered with university affairs in other questionable ways. Custodians have been told they will lose their jobs if they do not return to work in ten days, according to Walid Shebl, a housekeeping worker at AUC and leader in the university workers’ union (more in Al Masry Al Youm).
Photo taken September 14, 2011, Day 4 of the strike, by Gigi Ibrahim
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may
not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.