Forces of the Old Regime

CAIRO/STUTTGART/ULM | | aegypten

CAIRO/STUTTGART/ULM (Own report) - Strong protests are being raised against the prohibition of the founding of an independent student union at the German University in Cairo. According to students at the university, for years, they have been seeking to establish a student union to intervene for better study conditions. The German University in Cairo is the first and, until now, largest German partner university abroad, with particular significance for Germany's foreign policy. The administration of this university has prohibited the creation of a student union to prevent a realm of activity for opponents of the Mubarak regime. This month, the administration even called in the military to put down student campus protests. At this university, seen as a German alternative to the long-standing American University in Cairo, the German government and German scholars have an enormous influence. According to the Stuttgart University, one of the two patron universities, it has "a model character" for German "scholarship export". Years ago, it awarded "honorary citizenship" to the wife of the former Egyptian president, for her contribution toward founding the German University in Cairo. Conditions at the German University show how the forces of the old regime are still seeking to hold their ground - with German acquiescence.

Regime Conformity

The protests at the German University in Cairo (GUC), which escalated last week, had been sparked off by long-lasting disputes arising from the miserable study conditions. For years, students have not only been complaining about the university's substandard furnishings and deficiencies of its instructors, but also about the completely arbitrary increases in tuition and examination fees. Semester fees must be paid, even when studying abroad at German institutions. Grading and diplomas are also arbitrary.[1] This is why the student body has been seeking for years to initiate an independent student union, which the university has forbidden. According to the school's administration, the university should not be brought into conflict with Mubarak's repressive institutions because of the political activities of its students.

Quality Assurances

The complaints against the university's administration also touch German offices and personnel. The GUC was inaugurated in 2003 in the presence of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Being the first and - with currently around 8,400 students - the largest German university partnership outside of Germany, it plays a significant role in Berlin's foreign policy. It was established with the support of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). At its inauguration, it was remarked that during at least four years a "quality control" would be conducted, "demanding German engagement."[2] The role of patrons has been assumed by the Universities of Ulm and Stuttgart.[3] The GUC Board of Trustees includes the the German ambassador to Cairo, the Minister of Science of Baden Wurttemberg, the president of the Association for the Promotion of Science and Humanities in Germany, the rectors of both patron universities and other German personalities. Yet neither the conditions of study have been made better nor has the prohibition of a student union been lifted. On the contrary - the closest of contacts have been maintained to the old Mubarak regime.

Great Medal of Honor

Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of the recently overthrown president, served as an intermediary. In the Summer of 2004, she was awarded the "Honorary Citizenship" of the patron university in Stuttgart, an extremely rarely bestowed award, for her "services in the establishment of the German University in Cairo".[4] Mrs. Mubarak has received several awards from German universities, especially from those seeking cooperation with Egyptian institutes. As far back as February 2003, she was awarded the Medal of Honor by the Free University of Berlin; followed in 2004 by the University of Stuttgart's "Honorary Citizenship", and another award by the University of Frankfurt am Main and again in 2010, she was awarded the "Great Medal of Honor" from the Technical University of Berlin - for her services as mediator in the founding of the Campus el Gouna, the Technical University's "satellite campus" in Egypt, which, from its contents and its structure, operates exclusively along the lines of German university legislation. And of course, Suzanne Mubarak has also been awarded the Medal of Honor First Class by the GUC - for her tireless support of this German-Egyptian institution.

Military against Students

The long-time Egyptian First Lady’s affinity to German academia, especially to the GUC's patron university in Stuttgart, helps explain recent developments on campus. At the end of last February, the GUC students went onto the offensive with their demand to form a student union and - encouraged by the democracy movement - began to protest openly.[5] On March 10, the university's administration having been unable to end the protests simply by ignoring them, finally called in the army for help against the students.[6] But they continued their resistance and after another unsuccessful round of negotiations, 30 students were suspended from school and practically banned from the university premises. The university administration’s repression provoked an escalation of the protests with some 500 students participating last week, until the university finally promised to allow student union elections. Considering its actions so far, it is quite doubtful that this promise will be kept.

Subordinate

Disputes at the GUC are good examples of how forces of the old regime are still attempting to hold their ground. While the military regime in Cairo is currently seeking to enact a decree for the future punishment of demonstrators,[7] the GUC is blocking its students from politically organizing. The founder and current director of the university, who, even now still, permits Amin Mubarak, the cousin of the overthrown president, to be a member of the Board of Trustees,[8] is not only a former scholarship holder of the DAAD and chairman of the Egyptian DAAD Alumni Association, which he himself founded, but is also a laureate of the Federal Cross of Merit First Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. His university has now opened an office at Berlin's Gendarmenmarkt Square, not far from the German Foreign Ministry. According to the foreign ministry, this is to "initiate and administer further exchange programs between German universities and the German University in Cairo." Berlin's foreign ministry proclaimed that "especially in times of the democratic dawning of the Arab world", Germany will "forge ahead with its cooperation with the scholarly elite."[9] How the right of democratic organization will be handled is simply of subordinate significance.

[1] German University students resume their protests in Cairo; english.ahram.org.eg 23.03.2011
[2] GUC-Geschichte; www.guc.uni-stuttgart.de
[3] see also Eliten nach deutschem Modell
[4] Die Universität Stuttgart verleiht die Ehrenbürgerwürde an Suzanne Mubarak und Manfred Rommel; Pressemitteilung der Universität Stuttgart vom 5. August 2004
[5], [6] German University students resume their protests in Cairo; english.ahram.org.eg 23.03.2011
[7] Ernüchterung in Ägypten; www.nzz.de 26.03.2011
[8] Board of Trustees; www.guc.edu.eg
[9] German University in Cairo eröffnet Berlin-Büro; Pressemitteilung des Auswärtigen Amts 08.02.2011