Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) issues a detailed report on the elections of the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Cairo University

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Research team: Nefisa Dessouki, director of Academic Freedom program, Kholoud Saber, Assistant Director, Roaa Ghariebm, researcher at AFTE, Emad Naim, electronic media officer. Report was revised by Emad Mubarak, Executive Director.




Following the 25th of January revolution and with the beginning of the second academic term, Cairo University, like many other Egyptian universities, witnessed a general revolt against existing academic conditions. The beginning was the dissolution of students’ unions and organizing a second election during the same academic year 2010/2011. Student demonstrations spread throughout Egyptian universities demanding the ousting of university provosts, calling for elections of senior academic posts foremost chairs of departments up to the president of the university, including deputy presidents, deans, vice deans etc. In that context the Faculty of Arts, Cairo University witnessed the formation for the first time of a democratic committee among faculty members, a committee of academic initiatives for the Faculty of Arts in addition to an attempt by assistants to faculty members to organized themselves in something akin to a coalition. At the end those efforts were concluded with the first election after 20 years of the dean of the faculty on Saturday the 12th of June 2011. For two decades that position was filled by appointment.

This report is based on open interviews with several faculty members at the Faculty of Arts in addition to some of their assistants with the goal of getting an inside view of their experience in forming different faculty committees, the election of the dean and the details that surrounded that process. The report also made us of some of the minutes of staff meetings, wider meetings held at the faculty in addition to the different programs put forwards by the members who nominated themselves for the dean position. We shall present this report along three main axes: the electoral process, the different programs put forward by the candidates and the outcome of the lections and the reaction of the university administration to that electoral experience.

First: Electoral Process


It may be useful before going into the details of the electoral process to review the characteristics of the active groups which played a significant role in the process. As mentioned above the Faculty of Arts, has like many other faculties in Cairo University witnessed active initiatives which resulted in the formation of a committee for democracy at the Faculty of Arts and a committee for initiatives at the same faculty in addition to an attempt by the faculty assistants to organize themselves in something akin to a coalition. A member of the Committee for Democracy, a lecturer of English language at the faculty tells us:

People who left the campus on the 7th and 11th of February to join the demonstrations in Tahrir returned to campus with the spirit of Tahrir. We already had two active groups; the 9th of March group for the independence of the universities established since 2003 and Faculty for Reform which began after the revolution. Some of them belong to the Muslim Brotherhood and some are independent. At the level of the faculty there is the committee for democracy and the committee of initiatives, both of which work for democracy at the faculty through the election of academic leaderships.

A member of the committee of university initiatives, a lecturer of philosophy, tells us about the formation of the committee:

As a group we began in February. We all participated in the revolution. We agreed on progress and reform of the Faculty of Arts through a set of short and long term objectives, based on the election of academic leadership positions from the deans to the chairs of departments. We collected signatures from inside the faculty hoping that the next dean would be elected and not nominated. We collected more than 300 signatures. Our objective is to achieve democracy at the faculty and not to nominate somebody in particular.

Several meetings were held at the faculty, the first being on the 21st March between a number of faculty members of the different departments upon the invitation of the committee for democracy to agree on a primary vision for the choice of university leadership. The meeting was also attended by representatives of the initiatives’ committee. It was generally agreed that there is a need to advocate for the election of university leadership through direct elections of all faculty positions from the dean to the chairs of departments.

Then there was a larger meeting called for by the faculty administration on the 23rd of March. The invitation was titled: a workshop on the new university regulation law. However, most participants agreed that it was more important to focus the meeting on finalizing the position of faculty members regarding election of university leaderships. The meeting concluded in favor of that decision, foremost as far as the dean was concerned.

It is worth noting in that regard that the term of the present dean of the faculty of arts, Zein El Abedin Abu Khadra will end at the beginning of July this year with his retirement. Issues discussed at the meeting included the need for clear election procedures, criteria for nomination, etc. It was agreed to settle those issues through a questionnaire to be prepared by the faculty and distributed to all staff members and their assistants.

The questionnaire titled “On the organization of the electoral process of university leadership” included two sections: the first addressing the choice of faculty leadership (dean, vice deans, chairs of departments) and the second addressing the same for university leadership. Each section included questions on criteria for nomination: who is entitled to nomination? Who is entitled to vote? Duration of term? As well as suggestions for the formation of a committee to supervise the elections, including its composition, mandate and the date of elections.

The second section included the conditions for nomination for administrative university positions such as the president, his deputies and the secretary general, as well as criteria for voting and duration of term.

The questionnaire was distributed to all faculty departments. Results were analyzed for each department separately by an independent faculty committee. Results were as follows:

Regarding the position of Dean:

  • Right to nomination granted to every acting professor irrespective of seniority.
  • Voting: all faculty members have the right to vote, acting or non acting, excluding their assistants, e.g. tutors and assistant lecturers.
  • Duration of term of dean: no consensus. Suggestion ranged between three years for one term only and three years that can be renewed once.
  • Election supervising committee: to be chosen by each faculty department nominating a professor, not involved in the elections. The final committee is then elected from the nominees by the faculty’s extended committee. Its mandate is to supervise the voting process and the counting of votes. It cannot interfere in the choice of candidates. It was also agreed that elections should take place after the end of the second term lectures, i.e. June 2011.
  • The results of the questionnaire were released in a public meeting on the 5th of May and on the same day candidates nominated themselves for the position of dean. Prof. Randa Abu Bakr, Prof. of English language and Prof. Said Taufik, Chair of Philosophy Department were the first to nominate themselves for the position.

A faculty member tells us about the process of developing the questionnaire and analyzing its data:

“The idea of the questionnaire was suggested in the 23rd of March meeting. The vice dean drafted it and it took us about two weeks for its preparation and implementation. We insisted that the members of the democracy and initiative committee participate in the data analysis. The results were announced in a public meeting on the 5th of May. There was unanimous agreement regarding the election of the dean and the right of lecturers and assistant professors to vote, a great accomplishment. Also results agreed on the right of full professors only to nominate themselves, with no regard to seniority. The only condition was the announcement of a program, a vision”.

Some suggested that tutors and assistant lecturers be allowed to vote, but the results of the questionnaire did not support than, although they had participated in the questionnaire:

Tutors and assistant lecturers tries to organize themselves in something akin to a coalition to present their demands. But their movement is still not strong enough and I think their participation was somewhat weak”.

A professor of Arabic language elaborates:

The relationship between tutors and assistant professors at the university is a little complicated. It involves fraternity, friendship, supervision but it also has some negative aspects which drives some people not to encourage their participation, since some of them may be subject to pressure by their professors if the latter were candidates.

An assistant lecturer at the same faculty comments on their exclusion from voting:

Some claim that the choice of tutors and assistant lecturers may be wrong, but this is no reason to exclude them. Along the same logic we might exclude half of society on the basis of their low educational level. The argument of excluding them because their choice is not free and subject to pressure from their supervisors would imply exclusion of all employees from any election since their choice might be influenced by their employers, as well as children over 18 still living with their parents since they might be under their influence. Eventually we would be only left with seniors to elect themselves. If we look for excuses to exclude anybody from voting we shall always find an argument. This pattern of thinking shows that officials and our seniors still consider that we are immature and unable to make a choice; it’s as if they were our custodians, as if nothing has changed in the country.”

But those were the results of the questionnaire!. A tutor replies:

It has not been publicized enough in all departments. The distribution was more or less personal and limited to faculty members. We were also excluded from voting for the dean, the vice dean and the president of the university. What do they mean by “all faulty members”. We consider ourselves faculty members.

This statement draws our attention to one of the gaps in the questionnaire, since the items referring to the election of the dean and his deputies excluded tutors and assistant lecturers and only referred to “faculty members” resulting in a confusion regarding who would fit into that category.

Following the agreement to an organizational framework for the electoral process a faculty meeting was held on the 26 of May to present the different programs of the candidates. The meeting also discussed some final details including quorum, type of majority etc. The meeting agreed that quorum would be achieved by 40% of those entitled to vote. If not achieved on the first day, elections would be repeated the following week with no renewed registration of the general assembly. Voting would begin at 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Winning is by absolute majority irrespective of the total number of voters or the difference between the highest and the following number of votes. It was also agreed that elections would take place on the 11th of June.

Second: Review of the different electoral programs


Seven staff members nominated themselves for the position of Dean:

1-    Prof. Randa Abu Bakr (Professor in English Dept.)

2-   Prof. Essam Hamza (Vice dean and Professor in Dept. of Japanese language)

3-   Prof. Mohamed Nagib El Sabwa (Prof. in Psychology Dept.)

4-   Prof. Mostafa El Nashar (Prof. in Philosophy Dept and Dean of Faculty of Kinder Gardens at Cairo University)

5-   Prof. Sherif Shahin (Prof. and chair of Dept. of Documentation and Libraries)

6-   Prof. Mohamed Afifi (Prof. and chair of History Dept.)

7-   Prof. Said Taufik (Prof. and chair of Philosophy Dept.)

The campaign programs of the candidates addressed several issues related to the academic society of the Faculty of Arts as well as some student issues and issues concerning the administrative staff at the faculty. The programs differed in the problems they identified and the mechanisms suggested addressing them.

All programs agreed that a new era is beginning accompanied by new aspirations. However, most programs were quite procedural and immediate in their objectives, not reflecting a new radical philosophy or mechanism to achieve the aspired development or change. Regarding faculty problems the focus was on special measures to improve financial and social privileges of faculty members without mention of how this can be achieved or financed. On the issue of wages they called for a rise, as mentioned in the program of Dr. Said Taufik, who called for doubling of salaries irrespective of the quality control program applied at present> however none of the programs that mentioned this suggested the mechanism. They only posed the problem, while other programs did not refer to this problem at all, probably because they felt that the demand goes beyond the mandate of the dean and is in fact the responsibility of the university administration, the ministry of higher education and the supreme council of universities.

Other programs addressed issues like health insurance for faculty members and their families, subsidy and facilitation of participation in international academic conferences, organization of training courses for faculty and their assistants to develop their skills in research and teaching.

In some of the programs there was reference to the inadequacy of academic textbooks and the academic infrastructure (buildings, teaching halls, educational tools) promising to develop those services.

Regarding students, some programs referred to student issues, although in others there was no mention thereof. Student issues included support of student activities; student faculty families, activation of union committees and only one program explicitly mentioned non interference in student elections. Problems addressed in few programs included the educational process, the academic textbooks, the curricula and one program called for opening a wide debate on curricula and university regulations affecting students.

Some programs addressed issues related to university employees demanding the development of the administrative structure and solving its problems without specifying the nature of those problems. One program suggested the restructuring of the faculty administration, promising a system for incentives and honoraria.

The campaign program of the candidate who eventually won the elections reflected the current context, focusing not so much on reform procedures but on establishing a new management philosophy.

Her slogan was “Together” and her program was titled “The road to a new renaissance of the faculty based on independence and collective participation”. The program also called for decentralization of management and decision making whether in the relation between the faculty and the university administration or in the relation between the different departments. The program called for the independence of the faculty from any political or security decision related to its academic and research activity and the freedom of its students and staff to research. “Decisions should be based on dialogue and consensus; the base of decision making should be broadened, academic posts should not be personalized; the dean is only a coordinator of decision making groups and responsible for the implementation of agreed decisions in his capacity as director of the team.”

The program was a comprehensive one addressing academic life in its three dimensions (the academic, the managerial and the educational process and students affairs.

Finally, the program suggests a deeper approach to the budget, not limited to the possibilities of fund generation but also its independence, providing independent budgets for each department, ensuring accountability and transparency in expenditure, stressing the importance of declaring the faculty budget as well as the budgets of departments, special funds, as well as salaries and honoraria of leaderships”.

Despite all of the above we cannot conclude that the program was the decisive factor in the victory of Prof. Randa Abu Bakr, since her votes were close to those achieved by the next two candidates. Other factors that we feel have contributed to her election include her age since she is the youngest among all the nominees; she was also the only woman who nominated herself; she was never part of the administrative skeleton of the faculty and she was never appointed in managerial positions at the faculty. Her election therefore indicates a tendency among a number of faculty members to move away from the traditional model of the dean towards a new model to be tested for the first time.

Third: Outcome of elections and the attitude of university administration

Prof. Randa Abu Bakr, Professor of English language, won the elections and became the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Cairo University. Once ratified by the university administration, Prof. Abu Bakr would be the first woman Dean at the Faculty. The elections enjoyed a high percentage of participation involving 316 faculty members i.e. 88% of those entitled to vote (total 376). The distribution of votes was as follows:

Prof. Randa Abu Bakr:                         73

Prof. Essam Hamza :                            69

Prof. Mohamed Naguib El Saboa         58

Prof. Mostafa El Nashar                     52

Prof. Sherief Shahine                         28

Prof. Mohamed Afifi                           23

Prof. Said Taufik                                13

The reaction of the university administration, represented by the president, Prof. Hossam Kamel, was “The university will wait for the conclusions of the committee formed by the ministry of higher education, stressing that he cannot endorse those results before an agreement over the new procedures. He also said that the elections at the faculty of Arts do not follow the provisions of the current university regulations, which state that deans are appointed (and not elected). Prof. Kamel then issues a press release stating that the committee for choice of university leadership, will survey the academic community for the best way of choice, by direct election or a combination of both election and nomination. He said that in case the first option got the majority vote he will be able to endorse the results of the elections of the Faculty of Arts. In case the second option wins the majority there will be a new process at the faculty.


Here we would like to refer to the input of Prof. Adel abdel Gawad, Professor at the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University and member of the Ministry of Higher Education committee looking into the issue of university leadership. The first proposal submitted to the committee suggests the election of the chair of department from among the three most senior acting professors at the faculty, where the voting involves all staff members granting 10% of votes to tutors and assistant lecturers. As regards the choice of deans and presidents of universities, it would take place over two stages; the first involving an advertisement in the newspapers no less than 4 months before beginning of the term of the post, followed by a second stage where staff members elect from among the chosen names. A university committee then chooses from among the first three candidates with the highest votes.

The second proposal is based on the direct election of leadership, where an election management committee would manage and organize the elections of the chair of department, the dean, members of the electoral collective for the presidency of the university without prior evaluation of any of the candidates. (Shorouk newspaper, 14 June 2011).

What if the university administration refused the results of the elections of the Faculty of Arts? A lecturer at the faculty explains:

“The law states that the president of the university appoints the dean. We have had elections; the president has to endorse the results. If he refuses, this will be another battle.”

A lecturer at the Philosophy Department insists they are entitled to the acknowledgment by the university administration of the results of their elections:

” We have signatures, more than 300 staff members, including the signature of the dean himself. We are not defying legitimacy. We tell the dean if you have to suggest three names to the president of the university, then you will not be the one to make the decision, we as staff members will make that choice and we shall chose the dean we want. We have submitted this demand to the president of the university. If things went this way, fine; if it didn’t we shall be able to defend our right to chose”.

A professor in the Department of Arabic language insists on the legitimacy of the electoral process:

These are not the first elections of the dean in Egyptian universities. These are the fourth elections. We have been preceded by the Faculty of Arts, Ain Shams University and the results of their elections have been endorsed. The same thing happened in Beni Soueif and Assiut universities. Our experience was not the first. There is a precedence that can support our demand.”

AFTE believes that this electoral experience at the Faculty of Arts constitutes a cornerstone towards the independence of Egyptian universities, since the acknowledgement of the right to chose leadership positions is one of the most important mechanisms to establish the principle of independence of academic institutions, which would reflect positively on the educational process, the teaching, research and all academic activities targeting the capacity building of generations of students and researchers in the different sciences.

Our recommendation

AFTE believes that the experience at the Faculty of Arts opens a new horizon for new procedures in legislation and policy development in university management in all academic institutions in Egypt.

While the president of Cairo University insists that the university is waiting for the decision of the ministerial committee, indicating the insistence of decision making circles at the ministry on change from above, the tendency of staff members in the different faculties calls for a wider space for collective participation in policy and legislative design serving a real change.

It is therefore that AFTE recognizes the importance of opening space for similar experiences, from which can then be drawn appropriate legislative amendments that are responsive to the demands and objectives of the general craving in Egypt for more democracy and participation. Legislations would then be for the first time an outcome of an on-the-ground dialogue based on the realities of academic life and based on the widest possible participation of all its sectors.

In conclusion, AFTE believes that a free choice of university leaderships, from the level of the department, through the faculty, to the university as a whole is the cornerstone for the independence of academic life in Egypt, benefitting both staff and students, as well as society as a whole.

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