EGYPT: Court bans police from campus

In a ruling applauded by academics as historic, an Egyptian court has banned the presence of police guards on the campus of Cairo University, the nation's most prestigious university. The Administrative Court also obliged the university administration to set up a security unit of civilian personnel, saying that the presence of police on the campus was a violation of the Egyptian constitution and independence of universities.

Egypt's state university campuses have been policed by personnel from the Ministry of the Interior since the early 1980s. The police guards have no link to the university where they are stationed and are not answerable to its administration.

"This is an historic ruling, which will help restore some freedom to the university campus," said Moustafa Abdel Gelil, a medical professor at Cairo University. "This ruling will put an end to the frequent intervention of security men in academic affairs," he told University World News.

Abdel Gelil is a member of the March 9 Movement, a protest group of Cairo University professors, who press for university independence and academic freedom. They accuse the police of unconstitutional intervention in student elections and the appointment of academics in governmental universities.

"The police on the campus have been one of the key reasons for the decline in standards of Egyptian universities," said Abdel Gelil, who is also head of the protest group Kefaya (Enough), an outspoken critic of President Hosni Mubarak's regime.

"Universities contribute to the elevation of thought, progress of science and development of human values, which help create a better future for the nation," a summary of the 25 November court ruling read. "For this reason, the Egyptian constitution has always preserved the independence of universities. No restrictions whatsoever may be placed on a university's exercise of its activities as this undermines the university independence," it added.

The court also referred to Article 317 of the Egyptian constitution, which states that each university is responsible for creating its own security unit, whose duties are limited to protecting university buildings without interfering in academic life.

Though the ruling pertains to the Cairo University, claimants assert that it is applicable to Egypt's 18 government-run universities. "The government is under obligation to comply with this verdict in all universities without exception," said Abdullah Sorour, a law professor at the University of Alexandria.

"If the government dilly-dallies on enforcing this ruling, there will be escalatory measures," added Sorour, without elaborating on these measures. Sorour leads a group of academics advocating university independence in Alexandria, which is Egypt's second biggest city.

Since the ruling was pronounced, academics in state universities have been celebrating it in public.

There was no official word from the government. The president of Cairo University, Hossam Kamel was, however, quoted by the local press as saying that he is waiting to receive a copy of the verdict before meeting with the university's legal advisors to decide on an appropriate reaction. "I respect the court rulings, though I believe the police protect the university," he added.

"Legally speaking, the court ruling should be implemented immediately, even if the government opts to appeal it," said Moustafa Abdel Gelil, the medical professor at Cairo University. "Once we get an official copy of the ruling, we will present it to the president of the university and demand its implementation."