September 25, 2012

Ombuds at American University in Cairo Struggles to Mediate Student Protest

AUC's first Ombuds, Hanan Sabea, was overcome by heat and hospitalized on Sunday while attempting to mediate a confrontation between administrators and students.  The student protest over a 7% fee hike began last week and lead the university to suspend operations out of safety concerns. In an incident on Sunday, Sabea and a faculty member were negotiating with student blocking a gate, when "Sabea started to faint because of the lack of water and because of the mistreatment and disrespect the students were treating us with,” said a senior AUC employee.

On her Facebook page, Sabea shared her thoughts on the situation:
As someone who was at all events (not only as a witness but participant at the gate 4 on Sunday, Gate 2 on Thursday, at the negotiations between some students and senior admin on Thursday and Saturday, at gate 2 yesterday) I cannot describe what I have seen and experienced yesterday in any language that approximates what could happen at an institution of higher learning. The list is long but the most disturbing from my perspective is that I have witnessed students blatently twist facts, beat up staff members, insult faculty and mock them the whole day, make faculty, students and staff jump fences to access campus, and what is equally disturbing is the inability to recognize and reflect on what they are doing, to formulate arguments about why they are closing campus, or even have the knowledge about what happened and is happening that is shared among those who follow.

To add a twist of humor (tragic I would say) two student at two different occasions in trying to explain that they have not exhausted ALL options argued about approaching the ombuds (that was created as a product of the students' and workers' struggle last year) "We know the Ombuds and he came to our class" not realizing that he was talking to the Ombuds and I was never at any of their classes; this person was simply churning out what he has been told, without thinking, asking, reflecting or trying to figure out what lies behind what is being said. To make it even better: yesterday another student with whom I was discussing the negotiations on thursday and saturday and how the students present did a poor job in presenting their case, had contradictory arguments, moved back on agreements that were reached, and ultimately haggling with Lisa "if you give students 3000LE back we will end this", then on saturday rather then negotiating coming to deliver a message: "either remove the 7% or the gates will remain close" told me in my face, "No we know this is not right, it did not happen, the admin rejected us and we know this from Dr. Hanan Sabea who was present". When I informed him that actually I am Hanan, he said no, you are not!

On this note: for someone who should be having an identity crisis today: who am I: ombuds or no ombuds, Hanan or not Hanan; my real crisis is a deep sense of loss, loss about years of trying to create a student movement on campus (that was fundamentally hurt by the actions yesterday); solidarity between students and workers' movements that was slashed violently in the attacks, beatings and lies; a university that is shut; and students who in the zeal for power forget the meaning of being students. We all have and lost!
Videos posted to YouTube document the protests, including Sabea's attempts to work with the protesters.  Twitter updates (#aucstrike and #occupyauc) indicate that the protests are continuing. (Egypt Independent; Aswat Masriya; Facebook; YouTube.)

Related posts: American University in Cairo Names First Ombuds; American University in Cairo Ombuds Gets to Work.

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