Tuesday, April 14, 2009

In Egypt: A Case of Deliberate Discrimination in Universities

Watani International
12 April 2009
Not a single Copt among the 438 staff of gynecology and obstetrics departments in the faculties of medicine in Cairo, Alexandria, Tanta and Assiut Universities.
A question is occasionally raised: Why aren’t there Copts in the top positions of the Egyptian universities? What is the reality, and why?
Egypt boasts seventeen public universities owned and financed by the state. Each has a president and three or four vice presidents. Out of a total 71 in theses positions, there is not a single Copt. This is a fact.
But as the holders of these positions are typically chosen from the next leadership level, i.e. faculty deans and vice deans; it is worth considering whether Copts could get there but are blocked from the top echelons.
A detailed survey of published records has revealed that in the 274 faculties, which comprise these universities, only one has a Copt as a dean (the tiny Faculty of Archeology, Fayoum University). Out of a total of 673 vice-deans, there is one Copt (Faculty of Education, North Sinai branch of Suez University). That is another fact.
So much for the universities and faculties highest positions, but what about the next level of leadership - department chairpersons?We had to dive deep into the records and compile as much data as possible.
The following was discovered:- Cairo University: There are four Copts as department chairpersons out of the 148 whose data was available, at a ratio of 2.7%. That is about half the ratio of Coptic professors, which hovers around 5%.
- Ein-Shams University: There is one (possibly two) Copt(s) out of 109 chairpersons surveyed. The percentage of Coptic professors is about 7%.
- Alexandria University: There are seven (possibly nine) Copts out of 222, at a ratio between 3% and 4%. This is roughly comparable to the percentage of Copts among professors (the only case of its kind in Egypt’s universities).
In other words, in these three universities, which were all established before 1952, there are twelve to fifteen Coptic chairpersons among 479, at a ratio of 2.5% to 3.0%. In the universities of the Delta (Tanta, Mansoura and Zaqaziq) and of Helwan, there is not a single Copt among 283 chairpersons that could be surveyed. But someone would argue that such results might not be totally odd, given that Copts represent a small minority of the population in the Delta.
So, what about Upper Egypt, where Copts are mainly concentrated and could reach over a quarter of the populations in governorates like Minya or Assiut? This is what we found:
- Assiut University: There is not a single Copt as chairperson of its 109 departments. In a previously study, published in 2008, we have further found that whereas Copts currently represnt from 20% to 29% of the students in various faculties, they are less than 6% among the professors. What is more drastic is that their ratio falls to 1.7% among the next level of staff (associate professors, lecturers, etc), signaling the picture as it will prevail in a few years time.
- Minya University: There is not a single Copt among 120 chairpersons.
- South Valley University: Not a single Copt among 103 chairpersons.
- Fayoum University: There is one Copt among 90 chairpersons.
Hence, in the Upper Egypt universities combined, there is one Copt among 421.
If we consider the total of the eleven universities surveyed, we find 13 (possibly 16) Copts among 1183 chairpersons, at a global ratio below 1.5%
Should we add up the positions at all levels of leadership, up to the university presidents, for the group studied, we find 14 Copts (possibly 17) among 1921.
Notice that we haven’t considered Al-Azhar University, which has about half a million students in its 53 faculties (excluding the Islamic theology faculties), where non-Muslims aren’t even allowed to enroll.
Notice also this other bizarre phenomenon: Not a single Copt among the 438 staff of gynecology and obstetrics departments in the faculties of medicine in Cairo, Alexandria, Tanta and Assiut Universities (the only ones whose records could be studied). Some people complain that it is virtually impossible for a Copt to even earn the diploma in this branch - which is a prerequisite to practice the profession.***In conclusion, those who wonder why Copts are not present in the top posts in the universities do not realize the depth of the problem: No Copts as university presidents is perfectly normal, given their absence from positions of dean and vice-dean. This, in turn, is only expected given the rarity of Copts as department chairpersons. Even then, this rare species will soon be extinct in most universities thanks to the diminishing presence of Copts in teaching posts, especially in the ranks below professors. Distinguished Coptic students systematically find themselves downgraded in order not to qualify for teaching posts. Their complaints go unheeded, and it is usually difficult to argue each case. But the overall statistics speak loudly and highlight the issue unmistakably.
Naturally, a certain community (in this case the Copts) should be present in various segments and positions in a manner statistically commensurate with its proportion of the population – unless there are specific reasons not to. As the Copts are not known to be suddenly victims of an epidemic mental deficiency, nor to be generally alien to the pursuit of education (the opposite is true), one would expect them to be well represented in university teaching posts and, consequently, leadership posts.
But they are clearly not.The problem cannot be due to the “mere” entrenching of a cancerous culture of fanaticism amongst Egypt’s “highly educated elite,” but appears to be some kind of a broad-reaching policy of deliberate discrimination, aimed at uprooting the Copts almost entirely from public higher education. A policy that has been implemented slowly but surely, coupled with utter denial of any wrongdoing – to the point that many (including some fair-minded persons) do not realize the extent of the disaster.
To make matters worse, a new policy, to go into effect as of the fall classes of 2011, will make acceptance in all public universities conditional to successfully passing a personal interview. Various groups in the country have gone in uproar ever since the policy was announced, lamenting the end of the current system (in which students are accepted in faculties depending on the relevant grades obtained at the high-school exam). The current system may not be perfect, but at least it has the merit of being equitable. Under the new system, the door would become wide open for discrimination on the bases of religion, social status, wealth or nepotism. Yet, the government, seems adamant on going ahead with it, no matter what.
Where are these policies taking Egypt to?


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