Monday, October 25, 2010

EGYPT: High court bans police from university campuses

Police and security agents patrolling Egypt's university campuses have for decades been as common as scruffy jeans and backpacks. But on Saturday the nation's High Administrative Court dealt a setback to the Interior Ministry by ruling that police should be prohibited from the halls and courtyards of higher education.

"The presence of permanent Interior Ministry police forces inside university campuses represents an impairment of the independence guaranteed to the university by the constitution and the law," the court's statement read. The judge announced that police officers should be replaced by civilian guards employed by universities.
In recent years, police forces assigned by the Ministry of Interior to secure universities have become the subject of protests by professors and student leaders who have complained of intimidation and intrusion into academic life.

A group of Cairo University professors filed a lawsuit against the government and won a verdict barring police officers from universities in 2008. The ruling was appealed by both the Ministry of Higher Education and the Ministry of Interior before the appeal was rejected Saturday.

The new ruling was hailed by many university professors, some of whom doubted whether the Interior Ministry would abide by the court's decision.

"The verdict is very good, and it is a big blow to the government's efforts to control universities, but I don’t think that it will be enforced," Mohamed Abou Ghar, a professor gynecology at Cairo University, told the Los Angeles Times.

According to Abu Ghar, a founding member of the group that helped bring the case to court, the main problem is the direct interference of state security in all university matters, including academic policies.

"No dean at any Egyptian university is able to decide or sign any agreements before informing and receiving the approval of state security," he said. "This includes academic specifications like scientific conferences, exchange and research programs."

The Ministry of Interior has not yet commented on the verdict, but Minister of Higher Education Hani Helal said his ministry would follow the verdict. The court ruling comes two weeks after a video showing a police officer beating a female student at a college in the city of Zagazig spread across Facebook, spurring anger and protests in universities across the country.

The incident reportedly occurred after the student, Somaya Ashraf, rejected the officer's request to search her bag prior to entering her college, causing a verbal spat that ended with the officer kicking and slapping her.

Deploying police officers to universities coincided with the imposition of emergency law, which has been in effect since the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat.

-Source- Amro Hassan in Cairo