At least 883 students were suspended from universities across Egypt in the past two years, largely for engaging in political activities, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) said in a statement released Thursday.
Of those students, 470 were fully expelled from their course of study, while the remainder were suspended for periods ranging from under a month to up to three years, the report said.
AFTE launched a Twitter campaign under the hashtag “Bring back the suspended students” to protest what it calls university administrators’ unfair policies against students who are politically involved.
Al-Azhar University, which has been the site of the bloodiest confrontations between students and security forces since 2013, also had the highest number of suspended students of the universities polled in AFTE’s report, with 425. Cairo University came in second with 127, and Monufiya University third with 67 suspended students.
In addition, some universities have denied certain students housing in the campus dorms or barred them from joining student activities based on their political affiliations, the statement claimed.
Universities have often been the battleground in the conflict between the authorities and the banned Muslim Brotherhood group since former President Mohamed Morsi was ousted from power in 2013. Brotherhood-affiliated student groups began demonstrating against the military-backed regime change, which pushed the state to engineer a harsh crackdown on student freedoms in general. At least 15 students were killed and hundreds of others injured and arrested during these confrontations.
AFTE pointed to a law passed by former interim President Adly Mansour that granted wide powers to university presidents as a major cause of the uptick in student suspensions.
Mohamed Saeid, a lawyer in AFTE’s academic freedoms unit, told Mada Masr that it has been difficult to pinpoint the exact number of students who have been suspended or expelled from university, since the number increased so rapidly after that bill was passed in early 2014. The law gives university administrators the right to immediately suspend a student without going through other disciplinary channels first.
Another bill passed by Mansour in 2013 bans on-campus political activities.
Saeid explained that prior to the 2014 law, if a student was suspected of violating the university rules, he or she would first be notified of a potential investigation and then be referred to a disciplinary committee. Students should be granted due process and the ability to request a lawyer, he added.
Most of the students implicated in these cases were accused of committing violent acts or belonging to banned organizations, but sometimes the charges were worryingly ambiguous, according to Saeid — he claimed one student was suspended for filming an empty area on campus.
“In 90 percent of these cases, students were suspended without notification or proper investigations,” Saeid said, with the disciplinary process sometimes speeding through in less than a week.