Hundreds of students carrying flags and banners bearing patriotic slogans paraded in front of Cairo University this morning, overshadowing the roughly twenty professors that had gathered to participate in a nationwide strike called earlier this month by several of Egypt’s university faculty staff clubs.
The small handful of professors arrived at roughly 11 AM for the one-hour strike action, only to find the planned location of their demonstration–in front of the university dome–already being used by university officials to host an elaborate student ceremony. "A great show is about to take place!" one university official excitedly told Al-Masry Al-Youm.
The annual student ceremony, held to honor top-performing students, brought together several state-sponsored student unions.
Large groups of students, donning matching t-shirts and chanting patriotic songs, began marching in front of the dome at 11 AM–just in time to preempt the professors’ strike. They were accompanied by blaring marching bands and students wearing giant mascot costumes. A couple of students carried doves.
"These kids were called upon this morning on short notice. They were gathered without any real purpose. And they don’t know why they are here," said Dr. Abdel Gelil Mostafa, Cairo University professor of medicine. "It’s a deliberate move to spoil our demonstration."
According to another professor, the same ceremony had already been organized during mid-year exams.
Several students participating in the spectacle told Al-Masry Al-Youm that Cairo University Director Hossam Kamal had ordered the celebrations earlier that morning.
The small group of professors, therefore, ended up holding their demonstration–which went virtually unnoticed–in front of the Faculty of Arts building.
"We couldn’t actually walk up to the dome steps," said Hannah Kamal, Cairo University English professor. "With all the security and the crowds of students, it was physically impossible to reach the rector to talk to him."
Explaining the small turnout, she added: "There’s always a possibility that people came in the morning and then, after seeing the crowds, left again. I managed to reach one of my colleagues on the phone and she told me that this is where we’re standing now due to what’s going on."
Professors unanimously agreed that the elaborate ceremonies chosen to take place on the same day–and at exactly the same time–as their protest had not been a coincidence. "They did this to ruin our strike," said an incredulous Amina Rashid, a professor of French at Cairo University.
The small assembly of professors conceded that this year’s strike had lacked organization, especially when compared to a nationwide March 23, 2008 strike that saw thousands of academics and activists across the nation make similar demands– with over 800 at Cairo University alone.
Mohamed el-Malah, Professor of Mathematics at Cairo University, watched the elaborate parade with amusement.
"Professors in Egypt have the lowest salaries among university professors worldwide," he said. "At the same time, the government is spending millions on useless things. How much is this costing?"
Salem Sallam, a professor of medicine at Minya University, whose staff faculty club endorsed the strike, said that approximately 50 professors had attended. Al-Azhar also witnessed partial strikes, with professors from a handful of faculties attending.
Professor of Medicine at Mansoura University, Dr. Tarek el-Desouky, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that a number of classes had been canceled at Mansoura University during the planned strike, but that faculty members had not mobilized for any protests.
According to Abdallah Sorour, education professor at Alexandria University, over 2,000 people demonstrated on several of the university’s campuses. The Alexandria University faculty staff club had endorsed the strike, whereas Cairo University’s did not.