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Students in action
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 16 - 02 - 2012

The planned general strike appealed most to school and university students, reports Reem Leila
To mark the first anniversary of the toppling of former president Hosni Mubarak, several political movements have been calling on people to celebrate by a nationwide strike and civil disobedience to end the rule of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
The calls, mostly on Facebook and Twitter, were widely answered by students, with some 30 university student unions announcing that they would be taking part in the strike, in addition to many schools across the country. Many educational institutions were closed on 11 February because of the strike, which marked the first day of the second term in the academic year.
The calls aim at pressuring the SCAF to hand over power to an interim government earlier than scheduled by the end of June, and they were fuelled by the Port Said massacre that took place two weeks ago, in which 74 people were killed and 318 injured, according to official reports. Many have blamed the police and military for failing to prevent the disaster.
Among universities participating in the strike were Cairo University, Ain Shams University, Alexandria University, Helwan University, the American University in Cairo (AUC), the German University in Cairo (GUC), and the Ahram Canadian University (ACU), together with the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport (AASTMT), the Higher Institute for Cinema, the Lycée Français du Caire, the Al-Farouq School, Al-Saideya School, and Al-Tawfeqiya School, the Jesuit College, the College de la Sainte Famille, the De la Salle Schools and Egypt's Schools for Change Movement, all of which issued statements condemning the Port Said disaster.
However, the strike was hindered by a lack of support from the public at large, even though university and high-school students responded positively to it. In Cairo, AUC students began their strike early on Saturday morning by screening films about military and police brutality, hosting extended awareness sessions about the revolution and displaying banners calling on the SCAF to hand power to an interim government.
Veteran writers like Bilal Fadl and prominent activists such as Rasha Azab talked to students about the importance of freedom of expression, and the students screened a documentary called Kazeboon, or "Liars", about false claims allegedly made by the military or the SCAF.
Both the AUC and GUC lost a student in the Port Said incident, while Cairo University's Faculty of Engineering lost three, and Ain Shams lost one, as did Helwan University.
The AUC, whose students were among the first to announce their participation in the civil disobedience, suspended classes for the three days of the strike. Zeinab Shahin, a former professor of sociology at the AUC who supports the civil disobedience, said that the calls had not been planned well enough in advance.
"I believe in the student's strike because the SCAF does not respond unless it is pressured," said Shahin. While the strike was not echoed all over the country, "I believe it grabbed the SCAF's attention, and it will end its rule soon," she said.
Hundreds of students from Cairo, Ain Shams, Alexandria and Helwan universities marched through university premises on 11, 12 and 13 February, chanting slogans against the SCAF while distributing flyers to other students who had refrained from joining them.
Professors who were members of the 9 March Movement participated in the march by Cairo University students, chanting slogans against the SCAF. According to Awatef Abdel-Rahman, a professor of mass communications at Cairo University and a member of the 9 March Movement, students and other citizens held the SCAF responsible for recent events in Egypt.
"The SCAF is to be blamed for Egypt's deteriorating political condition," she said.
University students who took part in the strike also planned sit-ins on strike day. At the GUC, the strike included boycotting exams. "Since the toppling of Mubarak, no one has been found guilty of murdering protesters, and nothing has changed, so we decided to go on a general strike," said Amr Abdel-Wahab, head of the GUC student union.
The GUC postponed the beginning of the academic year until 18 February, but according to Ahmed Hassan, deputy head of the GUC students union, the strike will continue until the beginning of the academic year. "We will try to enlarge our action by convincing people to imitate us and refrain from buying any SCAF- produced goods if it does not meet our demands," Hassan said.
Hassan said that young people and students were able to push their demands better than political parties, especially the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which should use their presence in the People's Assembly to pressure the SCAF to meet the revolution's demands.
At Ain Shams University, hundreds of students held a peaceful protest while carrying photographs of students who died during the revolution, including Alaa Abdel-Hadi and Mohamed El-Sawi.
Despite the students' participation in the strike, Minister of Higher Education Hussein Khaled said that student absences at Ain Shams University had not been above 10 per cent. "The ministry supports the students' right to freedom of expression and to peaceful protest," the minister said. "But we also need to protect students and teaching staff as well."
During a visit to the Ain Shams campus, Khaled said that the economic situation in the country meant that civil disobedience could not be allowed to succeed. "The country is in dire need of all our efforts in order to improve the economic situation," he said.
Following the university movements, several schools declared their participation in the strike. We conducted a one-day strike, during which we presented the documentary Kazeboon," said Ernest Naguib, a preparatory school student.
Private and public schools held a one-day strike on Saturday or Sunday. Mohamed Gihad, a member of the Egypt's School Students for Change movement, said that "some English-language schools began their civil disobedience on Sunday, while French- language and public schools started on Saturday, so students belonging to each held a one-day strike."
Minister of Education Gamal El-Arabi threatened to expel students hindering the beginning of the academic year. On a tour of schools close to the Interior Ministry, including Mustafa Kamel, Abdine, and Al-Howayati, the minister ensured that security measures were being applied.
"The ministry has signed an agreement with a civil security company to protect students as well as educational buildings. This will protect students during their presence in school, and protect schools against robbery," El-Arabi said.
Hundreds of school students marched through Heliopolis, Downtown Cairo, Zamalek and Maspero on Saturday, the first time that many young people had taken part in a political march.
"Schools are different from universities. We can't hold a strike for several days because we can't risk students' futures. The ministry has instructed us to expel any pupil absent for more than two days," said Iman Nazif, headmistress of an English-language school.


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