Thousands of students have been gathering daily since Sunday in front of Cairo University’s famous dome. With banners protesting corruption, students roam around the university’s campus and in venues surrounding it. Theysay they want the resignation of the president and his administrative council.
For the first time in years the university is currently free of the security that has been preventing demonstrations for decades. Still, the campus is not completely free of guards, as several security personnel still protect the campus gateways, checking those entering for their university identity cards.
Saber Gamal, a business student, says “Security used to prevent us from protesting. Many violent fights used to erupt between students and security guards that tried to end demonstrations.”
Following the January 25 revolution, the university abided with the long-standing court ruling to end the presence of Ministry of Interior security on campus. However, students are still not satisfied with these changes, arguing that the university is still managed by a corrupt body.
Osama Ahmed, a law student, says “We have a list of demands that we would like to see realized. The most important is that the university’s president Hossam Kamel resigns together with his administrative council. We want the council to be elected and not appointed. We want the professors to have the right to elect a council that would formulate a new university constitution together with the students.”
However, professor Laila Sweif says not all professors agree. According to Sweif, several professors have signed a petition demanding the resignation of the president and only a few supported the idea that the administrative council should be elected. She explained that those that agree the council should be elected do not see this happening overnight either.
Students from the different faculties of Cairo University march to the main campus to join the sit-in. They usually range between three and four thousand during mid-day and between 150 and 200 students spend the night on campus.
Several professors participate regularly in the sit-in and support the students’ demands, according to students. Sweif confirmed that although this is a purely students’ movement some professors support their demands. However, Sweif says “I take part in the sit-in only for the purpose of monitoring. I do not want the students accused of sabotage as sometimes happens. I am here as a witness, on the students’ side, to make sure that it is a peaceful protest.”
Minister of Higher Education Amr Ezzat Salama met on Tuesday with twelve student representatives to discuss their demands. Ahmed, who was one of the representatives, says “we told him that our main demand was to remove the current president. He said that it was not in his power. He said that it is a decision that can only be taken by the country’s president and currently the military is ruling. We just want to be given a timeline for when our demands will be met.”
Students say their demands also include returning to regular university hours, objecting to the president’s demand that lectures be postponed. “The only reason the president wants the university closed is because he knows that there will be demonstrations against him,” Ahmed added.
Following the several incidents of violence that have occured in Cairo over the past few days, students say they are also concerned about their safety and demand that safety measures are taken for their protection. Gamal said the student dorms have been attacked by thugs during the night and that students have formed popular committees to act as a night watch.
Nevertheless, students’ fears over safety have led them to take a decision late on Wednesday to withhold from sitting in during the night. Kholoud Saber, an assistant professor in solidarity with the students, says “we have discussed the issue of safety and have come to the conclusion that it is better to leave at night and come back during daytime. Many signs have led us to believe that the university might be attacked by thugs during the night. There have been several attacks targeting sit-ins elsewhere and we have been given several warnings from professors regarding safety.”
On Tuesday hundreds of thugs approached Tahrir square, chanting “The people demand the evacuation of the square,” and started throwing stones at the protestors in the sit-in. Those described by protesters as “thugs” say they are workers in shops downtown who thought that the sit-in was affecting their business. Many have been wounded as a result of the attack.
Gamal explained that people working in the surrounding stores are afraid that the sit-in will stop regular study hours, affecting their business, which mainly caters to university needs. Such fears, according to him, might be creating much hostility towards the student sit-in. He added that students have in fact been receiving threats for several days now that thugs from the surrounding neighborhoods will be attacking. He says “a man came and told me that if they wanted, they can send men from Abu Attata and Bein El Sarayat to attack”, referring to the surrounding neighborhoods.
Nevertheless, students insist the sit-in will continue until demands are met but, for the sake of safety, will be suspended during night hours.