by Mona Shadi '15 FP
To those who would call themselves friends of learning,
To those who believe in justice,
To the students of the global community,
To those who travel the path of the seeker.
This letter begins with the student Yara Tarek Negm. You may, as of yet, know her name. The world only learned it on March 10th, when the 19 year-old Egyptian engineering student was crushed to death by two German University in Cairo school buses. Ms. Negm, a GUC student, was trying to take a bus home when she was fatally injured on-campus. Yara was, literally, crushed between the two vehicles. Witnesses claimed that Yara was killed by not only the negligence of the drivers, but that unenforced campus regulations were also responsible. According to a student who was present that day, the ambulance took nearly 20 minutes to move 700 meters to where Yara lay. When the paramedics arrived they were not equipped to address her trauma and she did not receive proper first aid. She died that evening.
The GUC bus parking area is infamously dangerous as it is devoid of pavement for pedestrians or parking mirrors. Accidents had occurred prior to Yara’s death, but no changes have been made.
Immediately following her death, hundreds of GUC students took to the streets to protest the negligence that led to her demise. A sit-in began and continued for a week. The actions of the student body forced the university to acknowledgestudents’ demands: classes were initially cancelled and three days of mourning were mandated. The university president, representatives of the Supreme Council of Universities, and various parents convened at a meeting where the administration made promises, assured that demands would be met, and no student would be harmed or persecuted if the sit-in was to be cleared. Based on these assurances the sit-in was broken up.
In April, however, less than a month later -- instead of opening a meaningful dialogue to address student demands for safety, accountability, and campus improvement -- the university launched an investigation against the organizers. In lieu of collaboration with the student body and those within the GUC Student Union, 40 students’ exams were cancelled and 11 pupils are being prosecuted: Hesham Walid, Mahmoud Essam, Nadine Kassab, Omar Mosallam, Hesham Ashram, Mohammed Emad, Mohamed Helmy, Ahmad El Gamal; as well as SU president Hazem Abdel Khalek, SU vice president Karim Naguib, and my friend Alaa el Atar.
On May 9th, the New Cairo Prosecution summoned six students regarding a complaint against the March protests issued by the GUC Administration . The prosecutor initially postponed indictments upon discovering that the university had timed allegations to coincide with the beginning of finals. The students were legally summoned again on the 24th of May.
Attar, Abd El-Khalek, and Naguib were detained for one night and remained in custody for three more. Their detention is also renewable for the duration of the investigation.
GUC chairman and founder Ashraf Mansour filed a complaint accusing the students of assaulting the school’s President Mahmoud Hashem, his property, and security personnel. President Hashem attempted to leave the campus without speaking to concerned parents after the incident. Students intercepted him as he made his way to his private car, requesting he meet with the families. Instead, the President was caught on video ordering his driver to run-over students standing in front of the vehicle, all before security extricated him from the scene.
The GUC administration subsequently refused to acknowledge student demands to hold the negligent accountable. They also refused to improve ambulance service, first-responder care, the parking area, and bus lot. In response the student body boycotted midterms exams. Though most students were allowed to take them later, 40 pupils were explicitly barred from taking the tests in retaliation.
This flagrantly violates the school’s mission statement, which purports to “create an excellent and self-contained intellectual atmosphere of work and study for both staff and students”. The school has issued no guarantees or official statements of action to better the campus, only making (hereto empty) promises to State education officials, a few SU representatives, and parents, all in closed-door meetings.. Recently, Alaa, Hazem, and Karim have been released. However the charges against them still stand and the investigation continues. Egregiously, GUC claims they will drop charges if the students issue an apology to the school.
My question to you is, is this acceptable? Students prosecuted and forced to apologize for protesting the senseless and horrific death of a classmate, a friend? Young people charged and thrown in jail by those tasked with their safety and education? I address this to everyone reading, but especially to those who have walked the halls of institutions of higher learning. Staff; faculty; administrators; students. We give a lot of time to thinking, speaking, and addressing matters of change, so here’s a chance to have an impact, to be the change we wish to see: Please sign this petition calling for the the GUC’s partners and patrons to take action. We seek the signatures of anyone who believes students should be protected, not fatally injured and incarcerated by their school’s administration.
Friends, I beseech you to shed light on this miscarriage of justice and administrative negligence, a travesty no one should ignore. This is not an issue that only concerns the German University in Cairo, or Egypt. This is a call for students the world over to support, help, and protect fellow students. This is a chance for the international educational community to demand the equal protection and freedom of expression for pupils accross the globe. To stay silent and let these events pass as just another feature in the 24-hour news cycle would not only constitute a failure for the nascent GUC student movement; it would also mean that we as current and former pupils are comfortable with different standards of protection and safety for people attending higher learning institutions elsewhere.
I ask you to think of all the battles that have and are still being waged across campuses to create safe, inclusive, positive, flourishing environments where ideas, hopes, and expression are encouraged and exchanged. I ask you to see yourself in the hopes of Yara’s stolen life, to see yourself in her devastated network of family, colleagues, acquaintances, and friends. I ask you to see yourself with all those who chose to stand where she fell and demand justice and betterment. We are cultivating and nourishing goals to create a world of solidarity, wholeness, fairness, and love of knowledge as we explore our political identities and attend our respective schools. Now we must, absolutely must, follow through on those values.
If the global community sits idly by while Mr. Mansour and the GUC administration charge pupils and neglect necessary improvements to campus, the German University in Cairo -- an international institution -- will be required only to pay lip service for crimes committed on their watch with impunity, all while they prosecute those who seek recourse following the death of a fellow student.
Yara wished to earn her diploma only to begin her life. When she died in violation of the safety that should be accorded to everyone, her friends -- my own among them -- stood to fight in her place. I ask that you see the persecuted students of GUC as fellow believers in a better world. I ask you to see all who sacrifice for others as part of the family we began forming when we began working for change, when we journeyed to our own universities to work for good, progress, and betterment. Yara’s place as a student is now vacant; her potential, now lost and unknowable. Let us honor her by demanding her death not be forgotten in order to maintain an unjust status quo. Let us work to make her memory a call for action, solidarity, and compassion. I pray; I implore you. We have light on our side, and this is my hand to yours in a time of darkness. Please take it.
An enormous thank you to those who helped in writing this piece.
Yours in hope, love, and solidarity,
The picture above is of Alaa el Atar courtesy of Mona Shadi.