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End of the AUC Strikes

September 20, 2011

The American University in Cairo today (Sept. 20) released the following statement:

The American University in Cairo reached an agreement today with the Independent Syndicate representing AUC custodians, landscape workers, and security guards, and with the Student Union representing students. The agreement provides better salaries and employment conditions for workers, more transparency on processes and procedures affecting the AUC community, and more opportunities to engage students in the University’s annual budget process.

You can read the full address by AUC President Lisa Anderson here or watch the video below.

What is particularly unprecedented here is the shift toward transparency–AUC actually opening up its budgets to its clients, constituencies and other stakeholders. The other fundamental shift was the solidarity between students and staff, their mutual assistance and support, though their goals were really quite different.

I canvassed some of my former students and colleagues on their opinion of what was happening. Every alum and faculty member was full of praise for the events. Here are a few comments:

One former student wrote:

The AUC strike tells us about how the today’s AUCIAN young people negotiate the meaning of their elitist education at AUC. The most significant to me is their attention to the injustice situation of AUC system towards workers, security staff and farmers. Their emphasis on principles of transparency, justice, solidarity, and communication with other universities either private or public is fascinating. They were able so far to corner the AUC management.

Another alumnus wrote:

I see the protest as a very positive action. AUC students who participated in these strikes present themselves no more as the rich and spoiled children of the strong and powerful figures in the Egyptian society. Rather, they represent themselves as hardworking students who are keen on the money their parents pay. In my opinion they are influenced by the best event of Egypt’s modern history: the Jan 25 revolution. One of the excellent things that happened in that revolution is that Egyptians who participated were very courageous and humble at the same time. Furthermore, planners of the revolution were smart and professional, they were very careful to start and maintain the revolution peacefully from their side. They have used several techniques to do that. Protestors had no weapons, they were attacked by police (and later thugs) and they just defended themselves.
I am not surprised that AUC students have been influenced by the EGYPTIAN revolution.

A faculty member wrote:

They have been great, very impressive, for the first time a coaliition between students and workers have taken place.

And one faculty member posted to her Facebook page:

Today has been a turning point in AUC’s history. I have seen unity among the community, justice and fairness to workers and students demands, and I have seen a spirit that reflects the spirit of the 25th of January. Thank you all for making this possible, thank you for making it happen!

Not all students are equally pleased. Some worry that the university will fail to follow through. Student activist Mandoudy posted the following video of students and staff receiving AUC President Lisa Anderson’s speech with applause, but wrote:

Although people are cheering and accepting what president Lisa had told them, Students were fooled by her good “prepared” speech and forgot all about their demands and that we were NOT tolerant to any compensations or middle ground solutions, which are all fake promises to shut us down!!

The end of the strikes have multiple dimensions. On the one hand, it means the end of the sense of common purpose, solidarity and agency–that is communitas–that the protests generated. At the same time, Mandoudy is right that it takes the extreme pressure to move toward solutions quickly off the AUC administration.

On the other hand, it means a return to structure–to classes, services and facilities that have been disrupted for over a week.

In this sense, it is like the end of the Tahrir Square uprising in miniature.

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