Amid turmoil, Cairo elects anti-Islamist as new v-c

As turmoil continued following the ousting by the military of Egypt’s first freely elected president, and some American universities opted to evacuate students, Gaber Nassar – a law professor and outspoken critic of Islamists – was chosen to lead the country’s top university.

Nassar became Cairo University's second elected president in two years after winning the post in a tight race that pitted him against eight other contenders.

Meanwhile, Egypt is enduring a traumatic time.

The military forced president and former engineering professor Mohamed Mursi out of power last Wednesday, placed him and other leaders in detention, dissolved the interim parliament and suspended the constitution after four days of massive protests demanding his removal for failing to address socioeconomic problems and for consolidating power in the hands of his Muslim Brotherhood party and hard-line Islamists.

The military’s move infuriated Mursi supporters, who also took to the streets, clashing with police. On Friday a Health Ministry official said six people had been killed in protests around the country and 180 wounded, and by late Friday the number of deaths was reported to be 17.

“The old regime has come back...worse than before,” said Ismail Abdel-Mohsen, an 18-year-old student among protestors outside the Rabia al-Adawiya Mosque. He dismissed the new interim head of state, senior judge Adly Mansour, as a “military puppet”.

US universities moving students out

The US State Department warned all Americans residing in the country to leave Egypt because of “continuing policy and social unrest”, and a number of US universities have been evacuating their students and some staff.

Among them were George Washington University, and campuses of the University of California and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, which had students in a cultural programme at the American University in Cairo or studying Arabic in Alexandria.

Students of Arabic in Alexandria were evacuated by the American Council for International Education, which runs the programme, and moved to a university in Morocco to resume their studies, according to Associated Press. They also included students from the universities of Texas, Oklahoma and Maryland as well as Michigan State University.

The previous Friday a 21-year-old American student, Andrew Pochter, was killed while photographing clashes between opponents and supporters of Mursi in Alexandria. Kenyon College in Ohio said in a statement that Pochter had been working as an intern for a non-profit education organisation.

Last week Malaysian Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said it was not yet necessary to evacuate thousands of Malaysian students from Egypt, but authorities are keeping a close watch on the situation. Malaysian students are concerned, due to continuing instability, about whether they will be able to sit for exams in the coming weeks.

New vice-chancellor for Cairo

Back at Cairo University, Gaber Nassar became the second elected president in two years.

None of the eight candidates earned the required votes to win in the first round of the 27 June elections. But Nassar, then deputy dean of Cairo University's law school and Ezz Eddin Abu Steit, an agriculture professor and the university’s vice president, gained the highest number of votes and became eligible for a run-off election.

Nassar won with a narrow margin, securing 74 votes against 73 for Abu Steit out of the valid ballots cast by the 152 members of the university's electoral college.

In post-win remarks, Nassar pledged to be an inclusive president of the state-run institution. "I thank those who voted for me and those who don't. We all belong to the same university where everyone will be judged according to performance."

Nassar also promised to work to fulfil the promises included in his campaign. "All efforts should be made to make this great university an independent and democratically run institution," he told the independent newspaper Al Shorouk.

"I am committed to achieving the independence of the university, increasing its [financial] resources, taking greater interest in scientific research and solving the problems of teaching staff and workers."

The election was the second time the prestigious institution has elected its president since a 2011 revolt toppled Egypt’s long-standing president Hosni Mubarak. For decades, leaders and deans of public universities were appointed by the head of state after approval from much-feared security agencies.

Following the Arab Spring revolt, which forced Mubarak to step down, universities were rocked by protests, with protesters demanding an end to the state authorities’ security control of institutions. Lecturers also pushed for electing universities’ top administrators.

But Nassar's win drew criticism from the Muslim Brotherhood, because last year he quit an Islamist-dominated constituent assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution for Egypt, saying that its formation was lop-sided.

Nassar also criticised the 2012 election of Mohamed Mursi to become president, saying that securing 52% of the cast ballots was not a comfortable win.

“Nassar has to tell us what he will do now that he has become president of the university with only 50.2% or a single plus vote compared to his nearest competitor,” said Mohamed Saad, head of the Cairo-based Islamist Al Fatah Centre for Studies.

“Nassar also cast doubts over the validity of the constitution because it was approved by 63% of the votes cast in the referendum” held last December, added Saad.

Egypt’s military suspended the constitution and appointed an interim president until early presidential elections could be held. No date has been set for the polls.

“When I objected to the constitution assembly's formation, my view was objective. I still stand by this opinion,” said Nassar. “But when it comes to my management of the university, it will be based on democracy and transparency to the benefit of all those who voted for or against me.”