By Menan Khater and Toqa Ezzidin
After a two-year halt, the Student Union (SU) elections are back in Cairo and Ain Shams Universities and are still on hold at Al-Azhar University.
Over the past two years, in the wake of banning the Muslim Brotherhood group, universities witnessed upheavals from students in different faculties who organised protests in support of the Brotherhood. Protests often ended with violent dispersals and several injuries among both students and security, in addition to random arrests and suspensions that followed.
Nearly 807 protests were organised by students from October 2014 to June 2015 as university students’ share of those demonstrations was 91%, a Democracy Index report stated. Out of those, 57% of the demands were the release of detained students and the return of suspended students.
Those demonstrations were heavily confronted by security forces, which led to several deaths and several injures. Falcon private security company was hired by the Ministry of Higher Education to secure universities.
A Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated student group called Students Against Coup (SAC) organised minor protests on Tuesday, marking International Students’ Day, in different cities, protesting the arrest and suspension of their colleagues and chanting against President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.
The group also announced their boycott of the Student Union elections in a statement on their official Facebook page.
Daily News Egypt spoke to a group of former and current Student Union members to review the elections’ resumption status.
Mohammad Zalat, a candidate in the Art Committee at the Faculty of Economics and Political Sciences at Cairo University told Daily News Egypt that the voters’ turnout in the SU elections this year was very low, no more than 15%.
“The low turnout is probably due the current midterms in the faculties in Cairo University,” he said.
According to Zalat, there are no security regulations inside the faculties and the Union Council was formed Wednesday. They will later hold a meeting with the administration to discuss their demands.
“In this meeting, we will discuss our main plan and demands and this is when the clashes might happen,” he said.
Often stereotyped as “belonging to Islamist groups” when they study religion, Al-Azhar University students witnessed the largest number of arrests and suspensions, which ended with the suspension of the SU elections this week.
“The Brotherhood affiliated students are a minority and unpopular,” former head of Al-Azhar’s SU Ahmed Mamdouh told Daily News Egypt.
When he ran for SU elections in early 2013, he formed a list of distinguished students who were not affiliated to the Brotherhood. “The list won from the first round except for one student, who tied with another Brotherhood student, but then [the former] won in the runoff.”
The SU faced many internal disputes shortly afterwards and many people withdrew and the budget allocated for the activities was only EGP 200, according to Mamdouh.
“Even if there were protests, the absence of a SU contributes largely in absorbing those protests by providing alternative activities where students can be more expressive,” Mamdouh concluded in concern over whether the next SU will be launched soon.