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The student movement in Egypt over the last century

The world and major media outlets have followed the student activities in Egyptian universities over the past two years, especially in Cairo and Al-Azhar Universities. In this report, Sasa Post will shed light on the student movement taking place in Egypt since early last century and its developments thus far.

1935-1936 uprising

Some historians believe that the student movement started the 1919 Revolution, but what all historians agree on is that the student movement was the fuel behind the independence struggle over the past century.

This uprising is considered the first loud voice from the Egyptian student movement, as the students led this uprising for complete independence from national leaders and parties.

On November 9, 1935, Sir Samuel Hoare announced that Britain considers the 1923 constitution as inapplicable. This statement ignited this uprising that did not subside.

November 13, 1935, was the first day of the uprising when about 2,000 students from Giza University marched to Cairo. According to British authorities, the students were more aggressive than ever before and they were difficult to deal with, unlike previous instances. The demonstrations continued for over the coming days and the government announced that it would close the university several times. Each time, the university was closed for a week at a time, until studies were suspended indefinitely on December 8, but this did not stop the uprising.

On November 14 the demonstration, consisting of approximately 4,000 students, clashed with British police on the famous Abbas Bridge. One student was wounded during the clashes, and another student, Mohamed Abdel-Hakam Al-Garrahy, was killed and his funeral turned into a striking national funeral attended by senior national leaders such as Mustafa El-Nahhas Pasha, Sidqi and Mohamed Mahmoud.

The uprising ended with a royal decree dictating the restoration of the 1923 constitution. In addition to this, the students pushed the leaders of the political parties to form a united front. The uprising paved the way for the signing of the Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936 which stipulated the exchange of ambassadors between Great Britain and Egypt, as well as Egypt’s right to reject foreign concessions and some other benefits.

The student movement remained active in Egypt and had a date with another uprising; the 1946 uprising.

1946 uprising

The uprising began November 1945 when a group of students announced they were on strike in solidarity with Palestine and Indonesia. The violent events of this uprising began on February 9, 1946, when a large crowd consisting of several thousands of high school students stormed the university campus.

The demands of this uprising was to end negotiations with the British, cancel the 1936 treaty and reject any defence treaty with Britain.

The initial result was the deposition of King Nuqrashi Pasha as prime minister on February 15 and the appointment of Ismail Sidqi in his place. However, this was not a good choice because Sidqi was not popular and did not have a great reputation.

The student movement starting coordinating with worker committees and were successful in forming a front made up of workers and students, calling it the National Committee of Workers and Students. The Committee called for a general strike on February 21, 1946, and since then commemorated it as National Students’ Day.

The student movement then announced a popular strike on March 4, and the masses responded to this strike, and clashes erupted between the British troops and students, 23 protesters were killed and 120 wounded. In Alexandria, demonstrators lowered the British flag at the headquarters of the British constables and attacked a British warship, killing two soldiers and 28 Egyptian citizens as well as wounding 342 other Egyptians.

Results of the uprising

  1. The appointment of Clement Attlee as British Prime Minister on March 8, 1946, as well as the withdrawal of British forces from Cairo and the Nile Delta, instead stationing themselves at the British base in the Suez Canal.
  2. The student pressured the government to unilaterally end negotiations with the British, which was achieved in 1951 by Prime Minister Mustafa El-Nahhas Pasha.

As a consequence of the uprising, clashes later occurred between the students and British forces, resulting in the death of several students. After the 1948 war in Palestine, the student movement turn another turn, taking up weapons and engaging in clashes between the police and students. During these clashes, the students killed the director of Cairo security Salim Zaki with a bomb.

The student movement continued in their path until the July 1952 Revolution occurred, independence was achieved and Egypt was ruled with an iron fist. The students then entered a new phase of struggle and covert action.

The student movement in the Nasser era

The revolution considered any violation of it, with the aim of solving matters, hostility and opposition. This prompted Abdel Nasser’s statement that universities were against the revolution because some university professors had different opinions than him regarding the management of some educational issues. When the Revolutionary Command Council cemented its authority, Abdel Nasser took an unprecedented step by collectively expelling university professors.

The student movement completely stopped during Abdel Nasser’s reign and was not resumed until the 1960’s at the hands of governmental organisations such as the Arab Socialist Union and the Youth Organisation. As for the other elements, they headed towards secret operations.

February 21, 1968, a new uprising

This uprising broke out after the June 1967 defeat at the hands of Helwan workers immediately after the announcement of the military court’s ruling in the case of the military aviation officers accused of negligence during the June war. The demonstrators believed that the rulings were too lenient.

Thousands of students from major universities in Cairo and Alexandria participated in the uprising and it coincided with February 21, which is Egyptian Student Day, adopted during the 1946 uprising. The Cairo uprising alone resulted in the death of two workers and the wounding of 77 citizens, as well as 146 police officers. Some 635 people were also arrested and some vehicles and buildings were destroyed in the capital.

In total, approximately 100,000 Egyptian university students participated in this uprising, and the situation was dealt with by the leadership. Abdel Nasser also gave his famous speech to the students, who would not have allowed such an uprising if it weren’t for the June 1967 defeat.

The most important result of this uprising was the spread of the spirit of self-confidence amongst the student masses and extending it to new student leaderships that were not supportive of the regime. Another result was the re-emergence of organised political currents within university campuses.

1968: Another uprising

New student turbulences began during the same year in November due to the announcement of a new education law that was not accepted by the students. The uprising began with protests by high school students in the city of Mansoura and, on the next day, the students continued to demonstrate and headed towards the Directorate of Security, which resulted in clashes. This led to the death of three students and a farmer as well as the wounding of 32 protesters, nine police officers and 14 soldiers.

News of the bloody events of Mansoura University reached Alexandria University, so leaders of the student movement from the engineering faculty launched massive protests and clashed with police forces. Some 53 policemen and 30 students were wounded, and the head of the Faculty of Engineering Union Atef Al-Shater and three of his colleagues were arrested.

The governor of Alexandria went to the Faculty of Engineering students and tried to convince them not to escalate the situation, but they held him inside the faculty and did not allow him to leave until Al-Shater and his colleagues were released. Impacted by the uprising, the parliament discussed the problem of the new law in a meeting held the day after the governor of Alexandria was detained.

November 25 witnessed a strike in Alexandria and large-scale protests which ended with clashes with the police, resulting in the death of three students, 12 parents, and a 12-year-old student, a total of 16 deaths. In addition to this, 167 protesters and 247 policemen were arrested, while 462 people were arrested, 78 of whom were released because they were under the age of 16 and 19 of whom were released for other reasons. The rest remained detained pending investigation.

Abdel Nasser

Fifty public transportation buses were smashed in 1968, along with 270 tram windshields, 116 traffic lights, 29 stalls, 11 shop windows and a number of public transport and private vehicles and lampposts. The sit-in staged by the Faculty of Engineering ended without achieving any significant results because of the lack of food during the days of Ramadan and power outages suffered by the protestors, as well as the withdrawal of the union leader from the sit-in and the governor’s threat to evacuate the building by force.

Those who were arrested during the sit-in were transferred to the courts for trial, but ultimately, no trials were held. After three months of being detained, the students were released but their leaders were sent for military service.

The Sadat era

Students began to complain about Sadat in Egyptian universities in 1971 when he announced that it was the year of reckoning with Israel, but did not fight Israel, and then announced that the next year was a “foggy” year and that he would not fight. This led to the outbreak of the final uprising in Egyptian universities, the 1972 uprising.

The uprising’s leaders were immediately arrested. These leaders included Marxist students as well as some Nasserists. The pro-Sadat trends inside university campuses had the opportunity to use violence against the opposition and condemn their policies. Public meetings began with the uprising’s leaders and there were many publications, magazines and clashes with the security forces off campus until Cairo University was shut down following a decision issued by President Sadat himself.

In general, events occurred in more than one Egyptian university, but what was strange this time was that previously, the uprisings began in Cairo and were joined by Alexandria. However, this time, Cairo was joined by Alexandria, Ain Shams, Assiut, Al-Azhar and Mansoura.

This uprising is considered the last real uprising of an Egyptian university. At the time, Sadat launched an attack on specific students, calling them out by name, such as Ahmed Abdullah Rozza, who was only 22 years old.

The October war put the student movement in Egypt in different situations and events, and it marked the end of the strong student movement in Egypt. With the emergence of the multi-party policy, students and their leaders joined new political parties.

The time of student uprisings of course ended when former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak came to power after Sadat was killed in the early 1980s, however the student movement continued to react to the political events in Egypt and the Arab world. Such reactions include the student participation in the mass demonstrations in support of the first and second Palestinian Intifadas as well as their participation in the mass demonstrations in protest to Egypt’s troops participating in deterring Iraq in the early 1990’s. The student movement also emerged in 1998 to condemn Egypt’s position on America’s bombing of Iraq and in March 2003 after the invasion of Iraq, masses of students demonstrated in condemnation of the Egyptian position on the invasion and they stormed Tahrir Square.

The common factor between all of these demonstrations is that they did not have as much impact as their predecessors, as these demonstrations were unable to evolve into a true uprising as the previous ones had. The previous demonstrations were able to achieve significant political gains for the country, whether in the face of the British occupation or in the face of successive governments.

Translated from sasapost.com, 18 October, 2014

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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