I have recently heard a bit of good news from colleagues at Cairo University, which is the largest in the country with 250,000 students (as I recall). This weekend, they just had their first democratic election of a Dean of the Faculty of Arts, with seven candidates running and extremely high turnout among the faculty and staff electorate. The new Dean is also the first woman to hold the position. Part of what intrigues and inspires me about this process is the way that, amid so much remaining tense in the streets and so many serious questions about the military rulers of the country and the future, that the “revolution” has taken greater hold throughout many spheres.
My initial inclination was to describe this as the way that democratic practices have transformed “civil society,” but I think that presumes the existence of “civil society” as such. The universities were administered by the government, operated through political pressures, and, perhaps most damagingly, surveyed and patrolled by state security. So what has happened is in many ways a two-step process (a ridiculous over simplification for sure). First, the university had to be civilianized (a process which began in some sense before the revolution with a court ruling evicting state security from campuses, though it has taken the revolution to see even a modicum of enforcement). And then, secondly, processes like this weekend’s elections are able to take place, thanks to the impressive and longstanding activism of so many faculty and students on the campuses. I think the results are both transformative and sustainable.
And I guess I think in some ways this may be what the revolution looks like—at least in part—the transformation of civil institutions in such ways. A similar electoral process took place at Ain Shams University earlier in the year, so there is reason to be encouraged. Such changes do not carry much weight in the international media, unfortunately, and things elsewhere in the city remain as unsettled as ever, but I do think this reminds us that, if we looks in the right place, there are reasons to be hopeful.