The last two weeks have been a roller coaster at the American University in Cairo (AUC). Since the start of the spring semester 2012 the student movement at AUC tried different means to talk to the administration and to raise concerns that have been on the table for almost one year now. One of the student movement demands was demanding a return of the 7% increase in tuition fees to the students involved with an agreement to cap tuition increases for the next three years at 2.3% annually. Some students closed the gates on 20 September and vowed to keep them shut until an agreement was reached between the President and the student movement on 30 Sept 2012, at which point they announced that, “the AUC community is returning now to AUC with mixed feelings”.
Indeed we are returning with mixed feelings, many faculty and students happy to finally be able to resume normal education after ten days of struggle. From finding online teaching solutions to creative places to meet at, the last weeks have shown the flexibility both of students and staff within a stressful and uncertain environment. Now things are fine! On Tuesday October 2, classes were even cancelled in favour of reconciling the AUC community. Going on Thursday to teach at AUC, the campus seemed as peaceful as it always was and no traces of the struggle can be seen.
But does this mean that AUC will not face such ruptures again? What did the main slogan of ‘Occupy AUC’ amount to?
Reflecting on the student movement at AUC since 2011, some serious changes have taken place. What was once a student movement in collaboration with faculty has now turned into a student only movement. Active professors at AUC who were earlier involved with the student movement havenot been treated with respect. It went as far as some faculty members at AUC receiving threatening messages from students. Professor Khaled Fahmy reflects in one Facebook note on the students’ assumption that they have exhausted all means of negotiation when activists like himself were not consulted in any way during the last “strike”. Not only are many faculty members disappointed especially those that have been active within the previous student movement, but also workers, and students are.
Last year’s student “uprising” was mostly about students supporting better working conditions for employees at AUC. This collective protest for better conditions at AUC achieved significant results for both workers and students. For some unknown reason this student “strike” resolved to use a different approach. In this recent student strike one incident involved a student hitting a worker who was also actively involved, leading to more antagonism not only between faculty and students but also workers. The students have sadly excluded many important sectors of the AUC community, narrowing the movement’s perspective: hence the decision to close the gates over the last ten days.
In the end the President and the Student Union reached a series of accords which have put an end to the days of turmoil we have all been through. But it is still unclear what lessons the activists of the student movement have learned from this. Professors are raising their concerns that the underlying problems have been left unanswered. Reconciliation and better communication within the AUC community will have to start with reflection on what happened to bring about the exclusion of most of the AUC community over some days from democratic means of freedom of speech, assembly, and learning.