Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Preliminary results indicate that the Muslim Brotherhood student movement has suffered a series of unexpected defeats in Egyptian state university elections this week.
Opposing student movements launched an elections list entitled “Sout Al-Talaba” (The Students’ Voice) to challenge the Muslim Brotherhood’s traditional dominance of Egyptian university campuses. The list includes the student movements of the opposition Al-Dostour Party, the Revolutionary Socialists Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, and the April 6 Movement, among others.
Egyptian state university elections are scheduled to continue to take place over the next two weeks, with some universities having completed the vote, while others have yet to begin. Preliminary results indicate that the Muslim Brotherhood’s student movement has met with a resounding failure. Observers are viewing this surprise result as a strong indication of the Brotherhood’s loss of popularity across the country, particularly in light of encompassing criticism of the performance of President Mohamed Mursi. The Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president is only eight months into his presidential term.
The preliminary results of Egyptian university student union elections show that Islamist, and particularly Muslim Brotherhood affiliated, student unions have seen their share of the vote decrease dramatically, with information indicating that the Brotherhood received zero percent of the vote at some universities.
Egypt’s Ain Shams University saw an unprecedented number of students running as independents, eschewing ties to any organized political student association. The Muslim Brotherhood student association at the university saw a significant weakening of its base of support.
The Brotherhood’s student organization at Tanta University lost nearly 90 percent of its seats at the student union. The Brotherhood also suffered an unexpected loss at Assiut University, winning just 2 percent of seats, in comparison to independents who won 73 percent of the vote.
The media adviser for the Muslim Brotherhood Student Association at Egypt’s Menoufiya University confirmed that the Brotherhood-affiliated students had failed to win the expected number of seats at the student union, obtaining just 1 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood’s opponents have taken advantage of the Islamists’ unpopularity, securing strong majorities at a number of nationwide universities, including Alexandria University.
Cairo University’s student elections are set to take place next week. The university announced the final student election list last week, with a total of 2,022 students competing. The student elections are expected to see fierce competition between different student political factions, including Islamist and Muslim Brotherhood student associations.
Hence it appears the on-going battle between the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and its opponents, which is raging in the Egyptian political arena, has now been transferred to the country’s universities and student unions, traditionally something of a safe haven for Muslim Brotherhood activism. Although the Muslim Brotherhood was outlawed under the Mubarak regime, the authorities largely turned a blind eye to political activism at university level.
Alexandria University saw scuffles break out during voting, with the vote being halted for one hour until calm could be restored. Eye-witnesses claimed that Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated students were guilty of a number of transgressions during the vote, including handing out leaflets in areas where this was restricted. At other Egyptian universities, students formed human chains boycotting the elections.
Students affiliated to the radical opposition “Black bloc” organization also appeared on campus at a number of state universities, including Cairo University. The group stressed that: “We will not permit the Ikhwanization (Brotherhoodization) of the student union” adding “we will not stand idly by.”
Observers have claimed that this surprising deterioration in support for the Muslim Brotherhood indicates a wider loss of support for the group in the Egyptian street. This represents a troubling indicator in light of the fast approaching parliamentary elections.
However, others have attributed the Muslim Brotherhood’s weak performance to the passing of new university bylaws in 2012 by the then Brotherhood-dominated Egyptian Student Union. The new bylaws were met with strong opposition from Egyptian student movements, particularly as they were ratified without referendum. Students claim that the new bylaws restrict their freedom to organize activities.