Death is This Week’s Headline in Egyptian Education
This article is published in cooperation with Mada Masr.
Egyptians woke up to a series of headlines detailing violent student deaths this week, with one university student and two schoolchildren dead by Thursday.
On Monday, German University in Cairo (GUC) engineering student Yara Negm died in the campus parking lot after a school bus backed up and pinned her against another bus, crushing her to death before an ambulance arrived at the scene.
Since Tuesday, hundreds of GUC students have been sitting-in to protest what they call the GUC administration’s negligence and impunity in the case. Student Michael Sherif told Mada Masr that the university ambulance arrived 15 minutes late to the scene, even though it was only meters away from the parking lot at the time of the incident. Students have accused the ambulance services of delaying treatment because they demanded proof that Negm was a GUC student before taking action. Sherif also claimed the medical team was unprepared for the severity of Negm’s injuries, and the driver had no idea which hospital to take her to.
“We knew this was going to happen,” Sherif said. “Every day we pull one of our friends out of the way of a bus at the last minute.” He explained that there isn’t enough room in the parking lot for students to stand and wait for their rides, as “there are too many buses in the parking area.”
On Tuesday, protesting students blocked the buses from leaving campus. The administration ultimately responded by declaring a three-day mourning period in which all classes were suspended, and halted student activities for two weeks.
But students accuse the administration of making empty gestures to quell their anger without taking responsibility for Negm’s death.
A list of 10 demands was presented at the sit-in, including holding those responsible for student security accountable for Negm’s death, overhauling the campus parking lot, installing sensors in the buses and stationing ambulances around campus, an on-campus magazine reported. The students also called for a number of new safety procedures, such as regular evacuation drills and establishing an emergency hotline.
Students unions and movements from several other universities have said they stand behind the GUC students, and some sent delegations to the demonstration in a show of support. The student union for private universities issued a statement condemning GUC for Negm’s death.
“Negligence has become a lifestyle for those responsible for managing the institutions of this country, and it has exceeded all limits. It is now reaching every one of us in the roads, work, home, and now on university campuses,” the statement said.
Members of the liberal Dostour Party’s student movement also issued a statement that declared, “We were taught that universities are places for learning to prepare us to become active citizens. But now, they are graves.”
This was not the first incident of its kind in recent history. In April 2013, Mansoura University professor Laila Zalabany was driving off campus when she fatally crushed student Gehad Moussa with her car. Furious students accused the university of negligence, and of attempting to hide evidence implicating the professor in Moussa’s death. A criminal court ultimately sentenced Zalabany to a year in prison and an LE5,000 fine.
At Misr International University (MIU), student Antwan Sameh and an elderly woman were walking into the university’s dentistry clinic when they were fatally hit by cars passing in front of the building. MIU students had long asked the university administration to build a pedestrian bridge in the area to avoid road accidents. After years of fury and protests, the bridge was finally built.
Negligence and violence have also run rampant in the country’s grade schools. Last week, a teacher beat a primary school student to death, while another was fatally electrocuted by a power box in front of the school that had erroneously been left open.
Islam Sherif, 11, died at his school in Cairo’s Sayeda Zeinab district after his teacher beat him on the head with a stick, leading to severe internal bleeding. The teacher was suspended by the Education Ministry and referred to the prosecution.
Ahmed Ismail, 9, was electrocuted when he went to play in front of an open electricity cabin as he waited for his school bus. Investigations showed that students were allowed to leave school one hour earlier than usual that day.
Hany Hilal, head of the Egyptian Coalition of Children’s Rights (ECCR), told Mada Masr that Egypt’s rising rates of violence hit society’s most vulnerable groups the hardest, namely women and children.
Looking at cases of violations committed against schoolchildren over the last year, the ECCR found that 19 children died due to negligence or violence, 26 students were sexually harassed by teachers or other school staff, 36 students were injured by violent teachers, and 26 other children were injured due to unsafe transportation.
Hilal said that the ECCR has asked the government to implement provisions in the Child Law that enforce the protection of children. Article 4 of the law’s executive regulations grants all children the right to “have access to various preventive measures, as well as protecting children from all forms of violence; physical, moral, or sexual insults; negligence, or any other form of abuse or exploitation.”
“Media is always sending messages of hate and incitement. There is terrorism and bombing everywhere,” Hilal pointed out. “Vulnerable social groups like children are typically the first victims of escalating violence, and the state is not taking steps to end this. This is where the negligence begins.”