EGYPT: Elections reinstate some university leaders

Four university presidents in Egypt have kept their posts in unprecedented elections, just weeks after they were forced to step down. The elections were held recently at the public universities of Cairo, Beni Suef, Benha and South Valley.

"The electoral college, which conducted Cairo University's election, will also act as a consultative board to which all major issues will be referred before the university's president takes a decision on them," Hossam Kamel, the institution's former president, said on Thursday after his win in the election. Hossam quit his post two months ago.

"I promise to protect the university's freedom and status," he added. Cairo University is Egypt's biggest state-owned educational institution.

Over the past months, Egypt's 19 public universities have been rocked by angry demonstrations demanding the sacking of all holders of leading posts, allegedly for being loyal to the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak, who was forced to step down in a popular revolt in February.

The embattled leaders of universities denied the accusation, but many of them eventually bowed to pressure and announced their resignations. Presidents of 10 universities resigned while the terms of eight others expired.

According to Minister of Higher Education Moatez Khurshed, the only president appointed by the Mubarak government who has refused to resign is head of the provincial University of Tanta Hala Fouad.

The Egyptian government has avoided sacking the appointed university presidents, saying the move is optional.

The university elections, in which former presidents of universities and deans are allowed to compete, will continue until later this month.

"Although we support democracy and free elections, we still hope that there should be a genuine mechanism to get rid of all faces of the former regime," said the academic group the Union of Independent Intellectuals, in the southern Egyptian city of Qena.

The union was commenting on the election win by the former president of the city's South Valley University, Abbas Mansour, who was an official in Mubarak's now-defunct National Democratic Party.

The group called on the country's military rulers to approve a law barring members of the former governing party from contesting any elections for a given period of time.

"During Dr Mansour's presidency of the university, education standards declined as relations on the campus deteriorated tragically," added the group in a statement. Mansour was not available for comment.

The military junta, which has been ruling Egypt since Mubarak's toppling, will have to approve the election wins before the university leaders are allowed to take up their posts.

Under regulations issued in 1972 and still in effect, the government appoints the top administrators of Egypt's public higher education institutions. But pro-democracy academics have been pushing the military to revoke these regulations, which they say make university leaders loyal to the state authorities.

Last week an Egyptian court ordered the election at the University of Zagazig, north of Cairo, to be suspended because voting is not legally part of the process for selecting leaders at state-owned universities. The ruling can be appealed, but legal experts expect it to throw the university elections into confusion.