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Boycotting the German University in Cairo

Posted on Facebook on March 21, 2012

Mohamed Mahmoud St. mural of Karim Khouzam

The reasons for my call for a boycott of the German University in Cairo and declining to attend the conference on “Downtown Cairo” due to be held at GUC on 24 and March 25, 2012:
I believe that the university, any university, must be an open place where everyone has the right to express their opinion without threat or intimidation; this right, furthermore, should not be limited on campus to a certain place or time. Providing a climate that is conducive of intellectual and academic debate at the university is conditional upon the university abiding strongly and clearly by the principles of academic freedom and the freedom of opinion and expression.
However, the events of the last few weeks that took place at GUC and the manner in which the university administration dealt with them prove that the university administration failed to provide a suitable environment for academic freedom on campus; the decisions it made, furthermore, indicate a serious lack of knowledge about and appreciation of the values of academic freedom and its meaning.
On Feb. 18 some students shouted slogans against the SCAF at a ceremony staged to pay tribute to Karim Khouzam, the GUC student who had been killed in the Port Said stadium on February 1. During the ceremony the students showed a film by the activist group “Askar kadhibun” (The Military are Lying) that denounced practices of the military junta and its policies. In response, the university decided to punish some of the students who had taken part in the ceremony.
On February 22 a “Disciplinary Board” decided to issue a “dismissal warning” to Amr Mohammed Abdel Wahab Mohammed and Osman Hassan Ali Osman Zico “in the case of repeated breach of the rules to do within the university or participate in any riot on campus.” The “Disciplinary Board” also decided to suspend the students: Ahmed Hassan Ahmed Mohamed, Mustafa Isa and Abdul-Hamid Abu Zaid Abdul-Hamid for two weeks.
On February 28 a “university council” met and decided to dismiss the students Amr Abdel-Wahab, and Hassan Zico fromt eh university altogether due to “their non abiding [by rules], their exceeding the bounds of decency and good behavior in dealing within the university, and acting in such a way that is contrary to public morals and good behavior and values of university.”
Thereafter, the two students, Amr Abdel-Wahab and Hassan Zico, presented a petition against the decision to dismiss them from the university altogether. Accordingly, the “University Disciplinary Board” met on March 15 and decided to reduce the punishment for these two students to suspension for two weeks given that both students “expressed their full appreciation and respect for the University …. and apologized for what they had done, and for actions they had undertaken that might be misunderstood as constituting an offence to any member of the faculty … They reaffirmed their commitment to abide by all rules governing freedom of expression and opinion only in places that have already been allocated for that purpose by the university administration.”

Dr. Mahmoud Hashem Abdel Kader, GUC President

On March 17 the university president, Prof. Dr. Mahmoud Hashem Abdel Kader, sent letters to the punished students informing them of the decision of the Disciplinary Board, specifically, that the Board had decided to uphold the original penalty of dismissal for two weeks (carried out already) for the two students: Ahmed Hassan Ahmed Mohamed and Abdel-Hamid Abu Zaid Abdul-Hamid, and to reduce the penalty of dismissal from the university altogether to two weeks’ dismissal for the two students: Amr Hassan Abdel-Wahab and Zico.
In his letters to those students the university president said that the on the “university is keen to protect the interest and the future of her children, the students, and stressed the need for all concerned parties to work together to uphold the principle of mutual respect between faculty and students, without prejudice to the right of the faculty of the reverence due from students and the right of students to the unlimited and unbroken giving of the faculty.”
Finally, the GUC Board of Trustees met on March 17 and issued a statement confirming that “the university encourages students to actively participate in the educational process, and therefore supports the composition of a Student Union through free elections. And the duty of this union is to pay attention to the educational, cultural, sporting and social development of students.”
The Board of Trustees also added in its statement that “the university is an altar of science and scientific research, education and culture, a place to exchange views but that it is not a lace for acting out political disputes.”
It may seem from the letter sent by the University President and the statement issued by the Board of Trustees that GUC has reversed its position and that the dismissed students had been reinstated, and that therefore the problem has been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. However, careful reading of the facts and documents show how, in order to find a way out of this crisis, the principle of freedom of opinion has been sacrificed. This is what has led me to object to the decisions of the university administration, based on the following reasons:
1. In his letter to the dismissed students, the President of the University did not mention the right of students to demonstrate and have sit ins..
2. The letter did not mention also the right of students to express their views freely, without threat or intimidation.
3. The letter did not mention the duty of the university in providing a climate that allows the free exchange of opinion within the campus.
4. The letter also did not mention the need to adhere to the principle of academic freedom and freedom of opinion and expression.
5. I see that the President of the University has missed the point when his stressed “the necessity for all concerned parties to work together to uphold the principle of mutual respect between faculty and students, without prejudice to the right of the faculty of the reverence due from students and the right of students to the unlimited and unbroken giving of the faculty.” From where did the President get the principle of reverence for the teaching staff? And who determines what this reverence is and what is constitutes of? Why did he also not mention the need to uphold the reverence to students?
6. I also see that the President made a mistake when he used the parental language when addressing the students, especially when he said that “the university is keen to protect the interest and the future of her children, the students.” The university is not a father or mother. The university is an institution that must abide by certain laws, standards and provisions. The university has obligations towards its students, the most important of which is upholding the principle of academic freedom and freedom of opinion and expression on campus.
7. The letter addressed by the President of the University to the student Amr Mohammed Abdel Wahab Mohammed was not truthful. The said student never presented an apology, and therefore the claims of the university president are a pure fabrication intended to save face.
8. The letters of President of the University addressed to the dismissed students and which were dated 17 March reflect an ignorance of the meaning of the principle of freedom of opinion at the university. For by stressing “the need to comply with all rules governing freedom of expression and opinion in the places that have already been allocated by the university administration for such a purpose,” he implicitly admits that there are places at the university in which it is allowed to exercise the right of freedom of opinion, but there are other places in which this is not allowed. For example, are students allowed to express their opinions freely and without threat or intimidation in the classroom, but prevented from doing so outside their classrooms? What about the library? Or gardens? Or laboratories? Or the administration building? Or toilets?
9. As for the decision of the Supreme Disciplinary Board, it is important to emphasize that the original expulsion were not abrogated; rather, they were replaced by orders of suspension for two weeks. The other orders of two-week’s suspension had already been carried out. Therefore, these penalties will be mentioned in the students’ records.
10. The statement issued by the Board of Trustees on March 17 omitted a fundamental right of the Student Union, and it is this right, in my opinion, that is the crux of the matter. The statement stresses that the university “supports the formation of a student union through free elections. And the duty of this union is to pay attention to the educational, cultural, sporting and social development of students as well as the representation of their demands with respect to university policies.” The statement deliberately neglected to mention that that among the concerns of the Union are the political needs of the students, a key demand of the demands of students. The students insist that they have a right to have a student union that is concerned with political education on campus. I strongly agree with the students in this demand of theirs, and I think that not allowing the student union to concern itself with political activities of students is an unjust decision and constitutes a denial of their original to exercise political activities on campus.
For all these reasons I decided to stick to my position not to attend the conference on downtown Cairo and to boycott all activities of GUC until such time in which it becomes clear that the University respects its students and upholds the principles of freedom of opinion.

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  1. […] is now at the University of Cambridge, and is one of the signatories to our letter, outlined in a blogpost in 2012 his concerns over this issue after the GUC took disciplinary action against students for organising […]

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