A recent court ruling invalidating Egypt’s Islamist-dominated parliament has dashed hopes among academics that their status will be improved any time soon.
The parliament elected earlier this year was dissolved this month while it was debating a raft of draft bills, including one amending rules dating back to the 1970s governing the country’s university affairs.
The short-lived bill suggested increasing the salaries of lecturers at 19 state-owned universities, adopting an election system for selecting university leaders and making better use of professors after they reach retirement age.
Lecturers at Egyptian universities held several protests before and after the popular revolt that forced long-standing president Hosni Mubarak out of power in February last year. The protesters called for substantially increasing lecturers’ paychecks and ending state control of universities.
Some academics went on strike last month to press their demands.
“Dissolving the People’s Assembly [the lower house of parliament] has taken us back to square one,” said Adel Abdul Gawad, a professor in Cairo. “The assembly gave its initial approval to the draft bill on the amendments. I don’t know what the fate of this draft is and how teaching staff salaries will be increased.”
He suggested that Minister of Higher Education Mohammed el-Nashar, who was appointed last month, should raise the issue with Egypt’s military rulers, who have retaken legislative powers after the Constitutional Court ordered the legislature dissolved.
Supporting the suggestion, Abdullah Sorour, a professor in the state-run Alexandria University’s school of arts, urged the generals to order that the draft become effective law.
“These demands represent basic rights for university teaching staff,” he said. “The government, which is still in office, has already approved them. What remains is that the [ruling] military council, now having legislative power, issues a binding law,” he added.
Sorour, who is leading efforts to set up an independent union for Egypt’s academics, has threatened unspecified action if the military does not issue the decree.
The military, which has been governing Egypt since Mubarak’s toppling, has promised to hand over power to an elected civilian administration by the end of this month.
However, chances are slim that this will happen as the generals recently granted themselves sweeping executive and legislative powers while diminishing the authority of the new president due to take office later this month.
“The bills passed by the legislature before it was dissolved are valid. But the amendments to the universities law were not finally approved by the legislature before its dissolution. So theses amendments are shelved,” Mahmoud Kabeesh, a law professor, told the independent newspaper Al Masry Al Youm, contradicting the understanding of some colleagues.
He confirmed that the military has the authority to decree laws on urgent issues. “But the amendments to the universities’ law and increasing lecturers’ salaries are not among the urgent issues,” he added.
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