Since the beginning of the academic year last fall, several student groups have voiced concerns about the impossibility of obtaining university permits for different activities.
The trend is feared to further hamper university freedoms, student organizers say.
In 2014, a law was passed to ban student activities affiliated with political parties or groups. In an attempt to circumvent the new restrictions, various political student groups were forced to change the names and descriptions of their activities in official documents presented to university administrations in order to continue operating.
According to university bylaws, student groups must be approved by university administrations in November of every academic year, in order to give the students enough time to carry them out by the end of the academic year in June.
Al-Midan, a student organization affiliated with the liberal Dostour party, was among these groups.
The organization’s leader at Tanta University, Maha Abu Raya, explains to Mada Masr that the group, along with several others, have not receive official approval from the university’s administration yet, even after dissociating their activities from the party.
“We are now in April, and we have not received the requisite approval. When we asked about reasons for the delay, we were told that state security is behind it. Is it part of the security apparatus’ work to approve campus activities now?” Raya asks.
An event in Mansoura University’s faculty of engineering was canceled, according to the faculty’s Student Union Vice President Mohamed Seyam, because it hosted young religious preacher Amir Mounir.
“Any serious event will not be approved — we are only allowed to hold entertainment events,” he explains. “The effort it takes to get a permit for an event is way more than the effort it takes to hold the event itself.”
Amr al-Helw, head of Tanta University’s student union, previously called on student groups nationwide to operate under established student unions, thereby excluding university administrations from the approval process. Helw is also the vice president of the Egyptian Student Union, the umbrella union that consists of representatives of different student unions, which was dissolved early last year.
But even the activities held by student unions face the same restrictions.
The student union of Assiut University’s faculty of engineering declared the suspension its activities due to the university administration’s reluctance to issue permits. In a statement, the union said that two scientific tours in Cairo were prevented from taking place, without any reason provided.
Mohamed Salah, the vice president of the university’s student union, tells Mada Masr that the faculty’s student union is angry that the administration has undermined its authority.
Raya believes that Helw’s suggestion, therefore, does not offer a real alternative. “We are still required to get approvals by the university [administration]. In addition, this would put us at the mercy of student unions. What if unions aren’t cooperative enough? We have a right to work independently from unions and administrations alike,” she states.
Seyam agrees, adding that as a student union leader, he has been working tirelessly to avoid any potential conflicts with the administration. “We are struggling not to get events or activities canceled. We are fighting just to exist and function properly,” he adds.
Salah, however, thinks that the situation may have to do more than with just security concerns. Bureaucratic obstacles and universities’ misinterpretation of bylaws could also be reasons for the challenges student groups face, he says.
Officials at the Supreme Council of Universities were not available to comment on the issue.
The current academic year witnessed a contentious start with the elections for the new student unions, which resulted in a sweeping victory for a number of pro-revolution student leaders over other government-backed student groups. In response, the Higher Education Ministry annulled the election results for the Egyptian Student Union.
The faceoff between elected leaders and the ministry has resulted in a long and complicated legal saga, with students accusing the ministry of deliberately restricting campus freedoms. Raya believes that the problem with student groups is not separate from the larger conflict over the fate of Egyptian Student Union.
“The academic year is about to end. The legal issues with the ESU have not been resolved and the elected union leaders cannot work collectively under a legitimate organization. Student groups cannot operate. It is obvious that there is an intention to stifle any independent student work,” she concludes.