Sunday, October 24, 2010

After a presence of 29 years, High Court bans police from Egyptian universities

Entrance to Cairo University (Photo Ahmad Masry, Al-Masry al-Youm).

An Egyptian court upheld a ruling on Saturday to end the presence of police on university campuses. Several Cairo University professors filed a suit saying the presence of Interior Ministry security units, in place since the early 1980s, was illegal and they should be replaced by civilian guards employed by the university.
A lower court ruled in the professors' favor in 2008, citing the universities' right to independence. The High Administrative Court upheld the decision in Saturday's judgment, rejecting an appeal from officials including the prime minister and the interior minister.
'The presence of permanent interior ministry police forces inside the Cairo University campus represents an impairment of the independence guaranteed to the university by the constitution and the law,' the court said.
The decision to install interior ministry police on public university campuses dates back to September 1981, when President Anwar Sadat rounded up political opponents. The ruling comes in the run-up to Egypt's parliamentary elections, scheduled for Nov. 28. The court ruling is final, but the government may still use emergency powers, as it has done in the past, to circumvent the law.
Baheiddin Hassan, head of the Cairo Center for Human Rights, applauded the ruling, with the reservation of the part that still requires the presence of civilian guards. He added that the Administrative Judiciary is a bastion in the defense of freedom, adding that the ruling upholds the justice of demands made by students, professors and human rights organizations.
In a declaration to the newpaper Al-Masry al-Youm, Hassan  predicted, however, that the ruling may not be implemented, 'since the current regime has no respect for the judiciary'. In addition to this, he warned that 'the presence of civilian guards represents another form of security interference in university affairs.'

Human Rights Watch, in a report called 'Reading between the Red Lines, The Repression of Academic Freedom in Egyptian Universities', wrote in 2005 that the Egyptian government uses three main tools, in various combinations, to stifle academic freedom: 'a pervasive police presence on campus, the political appointment of key administrators, and a series of laws that regulate internal affairs produce a university system under strict control of the state. "University education in Egypt cannot produce proper intellectuals," said Ahmad Taha, a poet and former professor. "It is nothing more than a government office. Using these instruments of repression, the state dictates what material can be taught and studied, restricts what opinions can be expressed and how, and interferes with meetings of professors and students. In so doing, it undermines the autonomy universities need to protect academic freedom and violates basic human rights.
About the presence of police units the report said: 'Different branches of the state police, under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior, monitor most aspects of state university life. University guards are stationed at campus gates and have offices in each faculty. Plainclothes members of the state security forces roam campuses to stop spontaneous expression, such as speeches or posters. The police also hire or coerce students into spying on each other. Those belonging to the student club "Horus" are notorious for intimidating their fellow students; this club, or usra, which has branches at the major universities, works for President Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP) and receives financial and moral support from the activities department in each faculty. Together these forces strive to silence activist students and deter other, less political students from joining them. They suppress specific expression while creating a general climate of fear.
University guards control access to the campus, keeping people both out and in and heavily scrutinizing politically active students in particular. They make it very difficult for visitors to enter the university, and students of various political leanings told Human Rights Watch of being detained or searched at the gates.

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