In an escalation of events, students closed the gates of the American University in Cairo for the third time on Sunday and the administration decided to suspend all the university’s activities until further notice, as allegations of violence flew between the two sides.
Before making the decision, the administration sent an email to the faculty urging them to try and convince the students to open the gates and to use other more democratic tactics. As a result, many members of faculty and staff went to negotiate with the students on the gate. Quarrels led to shouting matches, sometimes developing into physical fights.
One of these physical clashes developed between Tarek Maghraby, a senior lab supervisor and Ahmed al-Demerdash, junior a business major. The fight ended up with each of them filing a case against the other.
“After standing for long hours in the sun with Professor Hanan Sabea and Dr. Hany Sayed trying to convince the students to open the gate, Professor Sabea started to faint because of the lack of water and because of the mistreatment and disrespect the students were treating us with,” Maghraby, who is also the head of the independent workers syndicate at AUC, explained. Maghraby described how when he opened the gate easily because the lock seemed to be cheap and not of a good quality. “[Then] the students hit me when I opened the gate and accused me of slapping one of them,” he added.
Demerdash and Maghraby filed cases against each other afterwards.
“I have witnesses to prove I didn’t hit him,” Demerdash said, “and by the way, we were opening the gates for Dr. Hanan, but Maghraby insisted [in order] to seem heroic and to open the gate himself.”
The two groups, Demerdash with his friends and Maghraby with some professors went to the night prosecution and were both allowed to leave until further investigation.
“Students panicked when we opened the gate and they assaulted Maghraby, Dr. Rabab al-Mahdi and myself,” said Waleed Shebl, an AUC worker, explaining why he filed another case against the students.
Security guards were seen around campus, as well as Central Security soldiers, but no direct clashes with the students were reported.
It’s not the first strike to take place at AUC against rising fees, but the most prestigious educational institution in Egypt is not familiar with disputes escalating into violence.
Students had a similar strike last year where they stood in solidarity with the workers to raise their minimum wage. At the start of this year, workers’ minimum wage was raised to LE1,200 per month.
“These students who assaulted me were not the ones who stood for the workers last year,” claimed Maghraby, who said that until the attack, the staff was willing to support the students as they once did.
Mahdi, a political science professor at AUC and a witness to the scuffles said that some students were “a bad representation of the larger student body.”
The administration had earlier removed two of the gates to make it harder for students to block the way. Students responded by making new gates and placing them were the removed ones were Saturday night, again challenging the administration.
Sabea, who is also the university ombudsman, was about to faint during the clashes, and was hospitalized but soon returned home.
“I cannot describe what I have seen and experienced yesterday in any language that approximates what could happen at an institution of higher learning. The list is long but the most disturbing from my perspective is that I have witnessed students blatantly twist facts, beat up staff members, insult faculty and mock them the whole day, and make faculty, students and staff jump fences to access campus,” Sabea posted on Facebook. “Students who, in the zeal for power, forget the meaning of being students. We have all lost!”
A group of AUC alumni are supposed to have a meeting soon to come up with suggestions for the tense situation.
The campus remains closed with all operations suspended until the administration reaches an agreement with the angry students.