Curbs on candidacy in long-delayed student elections

Egypt’s first student elections since 2012 are to be held – but with restrictions imposed on candidacy that are being seen as aimed at excluding ‘dissident’ students. The polls are due to start on Monday 16 November and to run through December on campuses countrywide.

More than 23,000 students are standing in the elections. But under poll rules, students from ‘terrorist’ and ‘outlawed’ groups are barred from running.

The ban mainly targets student supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, designated in Egypt as a terrorist organisation since the army’s 2013 overthrow of former president Mohamed Morsi, a senior official of the Islamist group and the country’s first democratically elected leader.

Students affiliated to the ‘April 6 Youth Movement’, an activist group banned by a court ruling, are also barred from standing.

Eligible candidates must be Egyptians, must have paid their university fees and be engaged in on-campus activities. They must also have no links to political parties or have been subjected to disciplinary action.

Contenders mainly come from ‘Voice of Egypt’s Students’, a perceived pro-government alliance opposed to political activities on campus. Its rivals are opposition students standing as independents, espousing academic independence and seeking the release of detained students.


Universities in Egypt have experienced violent anti-government protests since Morsi’s ouster.

The unrest has involved clashes with police, resulting in deaths and detentions among students. Academic institutions have also expelled dozens of students charged with inciting or participating in violence on campus.

In the run-up to the elections, higher education authorities have warned contenders against political campaigning and have vowed to allow no interference in the poll process.

“No student will be excluded from the election unless he is proven to be affiliated to terrorist entities by participating in acts of rioting inside universities, convicted by a court or has been subjected to disciplinary action from his university board,” said Higher Education Minister Ashraf el-Sheehi.

“We do not have lists prepared in advance for excluding students. But we have the right to prevent terrorist entities from existing in student unions.”

Since Morsi’s overthrow, Egyptian authorities have banned political activities on campuses, accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of exploiting students to foment trouble.

“The Higher Education Ministry is keen to have respectable student unions to serve students, away from leanings towards any political party,” el-Sheehi added.

Opposition students unhappy

Opposition students claim that the election regulations have been deliberately worked out to exclude them from standing. They say that dozens of students have been disqualified from the race as a result.

“The main reason for sidelining those students is the vague article, which stipulates that the student wishing to be a candidate must have been engaged in significant activities at the university,” said Mahmud Shalabi, a student affiliated to the Islamist Strong Egypt Party.

“The Higher Education Ministry has not set a clear mechanism to implement this stipulation, a matter that has allowed administrators in some universities to interpret it arbitrarily.”

Baha Mokhtar, a ministry official, has denied that certain students have been targeted for exclusion from contesting the election. Students had been “disqualified for failing to meet the requirements defined in the student election regulations”, Mokhtar said in press remarks.

“Any student who has been disqualified has the right to appeal against this.”