American University in Cairo Crisis 2012 – “Occupy AUC”

29 Sep

In Front of HUSS Bldg

[From custodial workers strike in fall 2010, increased wages 100% & established the AUC Independent Syndicate]

In the past few days, AUC has witnessed a crisis that was faced with mixed reactions from the AUC community as well as the student movement as a whole, and this is simply due to the complexity of the nature of AUC student politics and what led to these current events. Since the move to New Cairo Campus from the Tahrir campus, AUC has witnessed several student actions including protests against the lack of and the quality of facility services in 2008, sit-ins and strikes by workers together with students regarding wage and contracts in fall 2010, and most recently in 2011 a student movement sit-in together with different sectors of workers within the university regarding wages, contracts, impeaching some corrupt officials, tuition caps, limit to the increase of tuition fees, and investigating the overall corruption. In all of the last three recent cases of students and/or workers actions, there were always a good number of faculty, staff, students, workers, and alumni actively taking part each time and an overall support and solidarity from the entire AUC community in finding solutions to the matters of concern.

This year’s students action has started in the beginning of the fall 2012 semester on 2 September with a campaign called “mosh dafe3,” which means “we won’t pay” during the drop-and-add week when the administration broke the agreement made in last year’s sit-in, which promised no more tuition increase on returning students. However, according to a student leader in these recent student action of closing all New Cairo campus gates with chains, Mohamed Hassan known as Antak said, “only 4 % didn’t pay, while the rest of the students paid tuition in fear of the university dropping their classes.” The second week of classes some students also mobilized in form of protests and marches within campus wearing vendetta masks calling for the removal of the 7% fee increase, but the administration failed to adhere to the demands of the students.

AUC students march campus against increased fees with Vendetta masks beginning of semester

As a result, a group of students felt that it was appropriate to escalate the pressure on the administration by shutting down the gates to return the 7% increase already paid, locking out students, faculty, staff, and all members of the AUC community from entering the New Cairo campus starting on 16 September 2012 as shown in these videos:

The group, who took control of chaining down the gates locking out all community members were no more than maximum 50 people according to the various eyewitnesses who were present.As a result the university suspended at least 5 students one of which was the Student Union Vice President Nazar El Zanaty, and after the first hearing held on Tues 18 Sep, the 5 students were allowed to enter campus and attend classes while the investigation was ongoing. When many opposed this method not necessarily the valid demands, the group controlling the gates calling themselves “Yes We Can Occupy AUC” started an online petition on 18 September 2012, which reached 2,838 signatories by 26 September 2012, in support to close the gates. On Saturday 22 Sep 2012, in attempt to lift the siege on campus after already suspending 5 students on Thursday 20 Sep 2012, the administration removed at least two of the gates to the AUC campus by the evening, which made students supporting gate closure furious. In return, the students built and put on back the gates to ensure the lock down of the university until all the demands are met.

On Sunday 23 Sep 2012 a group of students protested in front of AUC gates with a banner against closing the gates in addition to some faculty, who denounce the gate closure mechanism as it is: a) an infringement on others’ rights, b) not a collective decision by all or at least most members of the AUC community, and c) was not preceded by other legitimate escalating protesting methods such a strike or a sit-in.. Some of these professors include faculty such as Dr. Hani Sayed, Dr. Hanan Sabea, and Dr. Rabab El Mahdi, who have been actively involved and in support of every student mobilization in the recent years, also who fully support the valid demands put forth by the students. At some point in the day, a clash broke out at gate two between few of those professors previously mentioned and few students, who refused to open the gates, thus a staff member, Tarek Maghrabi, head of the AUC independent syndicate founded in 2011 following the successful workers strike in fall 2010, intervened to open the gates with a key he had, later student Ahmed El Demerdash filed a police report against Tarek Maghrabi accusing him of possessing a knife, which Maghrabi denied. A testimony by the AUC Independent Syndicate was published which states most of the details. Hisham Shafiq, in person, confirmed El Demerdash assault on Maghrabi out side the prosecutor and actually defended El Demerdash’s claims and “rights.”

The administration’s reaction was to suspend classes at first each day the gates were closed by the students since 16 Sep and then later the whole operation was suspended on 23 Sep. Several negotiation meetings between the administration and AUC community representatives have been conducted in order to find a solution to meet the demands. However, the stance of the “Occupy AUC” students that they will not negotiate nor open the gates until their two demands met, which are: 1) 7% fee increase to be returned to the students in form of deposits in each student’s account. 2) Tuition cap models to be effective immediately. President of the university Lisa Anderson has rejected the first demand saying that “it is impossible since budget is already in effect.”

Regarding the tuition caps she said that “3 models will be presented on November 15th to the students from which they may choose.” On the other hand, a preliminary agreement was reached between some students, who don’t represent “Occupy AUC” nor the official Student Union, and the administration with the presence of some alumni and Parent Association representatives in an attempt to defuse the deadlock. This preliminary agreement is represented in a form of list of updated demands the administration have confirmed its commitment, at least verbally, to work on implementing it. The highlight of these demands accepted are: The reopening of financial aid to all student as of now, 3 tuition cap models to be presented to students on November 15th, corruption committee to be formed to investigate the budget including expenses without signing a nondisclosure agreement, deferred payments to be paid in installments with no interest rate, and more student representation in committees that take financial and educational quality decisions.

As of Friday 28 September 2012, the Student Union and the “Occupy AUC” group have rejected or at least not signed this agreement, which leaves the situation at a standstill. However, groups of students started to organize and call for alternatives such as the AUC Front and For The Cause, Not The Method group in addition to efforts made by the-under-establishment AUC Alumni Association all in order to solve the core problem of financial transparency and end the siege by the few on the New Cairo campus. There are also attempts to call for opening of the gates while negotiations are finalized by an online petition against closure of gates signed by total of 880+ members of AUC as well as a conjoined statement to the AUC community adopted by the AUC Front.

“Occupy AUC” is NOTt a strike or a mass movement or a civil disobedience act  by any loose definitions of these terms. A group of 100 students assumed that simply by collecting 2,000+ signatures on an online petition to impose actions on thousands of other students, staff, faculty and workers by locking down campus gates with chains while verbally and physically assaulting other members of the AUC community at times, is a “revolutionary” act when in fact, it is exactly the opposite and unjustifiable under these circumstance. This act is completely unacceptable by the standard of any legitimate act of protest in demanding rights. The students’ demands are and have been acknowledged from all sides to be valid and legitimate, if not revolutionary in the history of AUC student movement; however, the tactic used, in this particular case, can never be justified nor defended. Substitutionism can never replace the power of mass action. Students could have expanded their movement and mobilized others to make the decision to put the campus on standstill by a collective force instead of making it by the few with the help of chains, locks, cars, and intimidation. The exercise of power delivered by the few number of students controlling the gates raises one important question: why would a small group of students insist on closing the AUC gates by force despite that a preliminary agreement has been reached, and endorsed by different community members? Should infringing on other people’s rights ever be considered as a “revolutionary” or even a legitimate act when in the context of substitutionism? The answer lies in Lenin’s Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder.

The American University in Cairo has been going through a crisis that led to severe fractures within our community and has damaged many of the values upon which the AUC student movement was founded upon when workers, staff, alumni, students, and faculty stood in solidarity with one another in any member’s struggle until all rights were achieved. I urge the students at the gates to accept the preliminary agreement, but not to stop in demanding more and persisting that all demands are implemented. This can only be achieved by opening the gates, accepting the preliminary agreement, but, and this is the crucial part for the movement to become legitimate, is to continue in uniting the different sectors of the university on the demands and not the actions, mobilizing others through debates, awareness, and forums, inviting others who are dedicated to the cause and pressurizing the administration with this unbreakable united front of all members of the AUC community through the various collective legitimate means and escalations. The power of the masses is greater than any chains holding our freedom to education.

Playlist of collected VIDEOS from 16 Sep – 23 Sep 2012

AUC Crisis collected testimonies from past week’s events

Arabic version of report available
«احتلال الجامعة الأمريكية»
مطالب مشروعة ولكن…

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2 Responses to “American University in Cairo Crisis 2012 – “Occupy AUC””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. AUC Internal Student Politics – Camps « Tahrir & Beyond - October 3, 2012

    […] My so-called “attacks” on the Black Camp or ANY Camp, who insist in monopolizing student politics in the university as a Camp not as individuals or students is because THIS is exactly what will prevent and/or weaken any student movement that is based upon principles or cause like that of the organic workers Fall 2010 strike. The idea of Camps makes individual students, who don’t belong to a camp, almost have no chance in engaging in student politics (including movements) unless he or she joins a Camp. Almost all of the individuals, who took part in the 2010 fall strike, who were mostly individuals not in Camps, were either prevented, attacked, and/or excluded from giving input in this year’s “Occupy AUC,” unless he or she belonged to a Camp. This is very dangerous because it enforces the monopoly of student activism to exclusive groups that are not even known to the whole community. The presence and idea of Camps, in my opinion, is the highest undemocratic form of a student movement, which sometimes praises itself on being “revolutionary.” This is both highly problematic and dangerous to what a progressive student movement means and the ideas a revolutionary student movement represent, which this year’s “Occupy AUC” did not, and you can read why in my previous report. […]

  2. 3arabawy BookMarx 10/08/2012 (a.m.) « 3arabawy - October 8, 2012

    […] American University in Cairo Crisis 2012 – “Occupy AUC” « Tahrir & Beyond […]

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