CAIRO — In recent months, hundreds of master’s and doctoral degree holders who graduated in 2015 have held demonstrations in Cairo, demanding that they be appointed to jobs in the state administration. A protest was held Nov. 24 outside Ittihadiya presidential palace, followed by another Nov. 29 in Tahrir Square.
The latter demonstration was broken up by security forces, and 31 of the participants were arrested, most notably Mahmoud Abu Zeid, the general coordinator of the protest campaign, while he was speaking to the press in Tahrir Square.
On Nov. 30, the arrested participants were released from the Qasr el-Nil police station in Cairo, except for Abu Zeid. He remained under arrest on charges of protesting without a permit, for which he could be sentenced to five years in prison under Egypt’s 2013 demonstration law.
On Dec. 1, Abu Zeid was released on 5,000 Egyptian pounds bail (about $640), which was collected by his colleagues in the campaign to secure his release.
In this regard, Samir Abdel Wahab, head of the Decentralization Policy Support Unit and chair of the management department at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor, “This problem was exacerbated after the previous governments appointed a number of the master's and doctoral degree holders to the state administration over the past four years. This pushed many university students to enroll in higher degree programs to obtain a job in the state administration.”
Abdel Wahab said, “These appointments were the product of political and social pressure, rather than resulting from an actual need for these specializations. This is evidenced by the fact that the appointments were made to posts that have nothing to do with [the employees’] field of competence.”
Abdel Wahab held the Ministry of Higher Education responsible, saying that it grants these academic degrees without taking into account if there is an actual need for these higher studies. He claimed that universities strive to increase their revenues through tuition fees for graduate studies, even though there is no need for such majors in the labor market.
Yet, Mohammad Hegazy, spokesman for the Ministry of Higher Education, disagreed. Speaking to Al-Monitor, he said, “It is wrong to argue that the problem resides with the Ministry of Higher Education. The ministry cannot stand in the face of any student willing to achieve an education. Its job is to help them obtain academic degrees, including master’s and doctoral degrees.”
Hegazy added, “Higher education in Egypt is supported by the state and is not aimed at making a profit; 24 billion Egyptian pounds were allocated to higher education in 2014-2015. We are preparing students for the labor market based on each student’s academic qualifications, each in his or her major. The students need to market their personal skills based on the labor market needs, and the best among them will be chosen. Job creation is the task of the other ministries, and not that of the Ministry of Higher Education.”
Rami Naguib, coordinator for the 2013 class of master's and doctoral degree holders, told Al-Monitor that his class is united in solidarity with that of 2015, because it is unfair not to appoint them after members of previous classes were appointed. They are the future scholars that the country needs to enhance the deteriorating situation in the state administration, according to Naguib.
Naguib explained that the reason behind the demonstrators’ resentment and determination to be appointed is the significant role nepotism assumes in the access to many posts, be they in the judiciary, banks, oil and electricity departments.
In Naguib’s view, the argument that the new civil service law prevents appointments in the state administration without an examination is mere government intransigence, because the prime minister has the power to pass a resolution to appoint these advanced degree holders.
This is what happened when classes were appointed in the past, despite the fact that the previous civil service law also had such restrictions. Former Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb appointed two batches of degree holders in 2013-2014.
Former Finance Minister Fayyad Abdel Moneim told Al-Monitor that the problem resides in the Egyptian economy, which is unable to create jobs for those willing to work for the prevailing rates in the private sector. In addition, he said that there is no mechanism to absorb them in the state administration.
Abdel Moneim pointed out that the state administration carries a huge burden. There are more than 6 million employees who are costing the state 217 billion Egyptian pounds annually. Social justice and social stability require that these youths, who spent their lives studying, be appointed, and the state needs to benefit from them, he added.
Abdel Moneim further explained that there are approximately 20,000 advisers in the state administration and they are being paid 18 billion Egyptian pounds annually. Each adviser is paid 36 times or more the minimum annual wage of 14,400 pounds. This means that each adviser takes the equivalent financial resources of 36 people or more for those holding a master’s or doctoral degree.
Amir Salem, head of the National Association for Human Rights, told Al-Monitor that members of the army, the police and the judiciary are able to obtain jobs despite achieving an average of 60% in high school. Thus, he asks, what is the importance of education in Egypt? In his view, the state is sending a message to academic cadres that there is no room for them in Egypt and that they have to work abroad.
Salem explained that the state is dealing with the master's and doctoral degree holders as if they are criminals and is exerting pressure on them so they will not hold protests. He said this means that the state of law is collapsing, as the only thing these demonstrators have done is expressed sorrow for their situation so that the officials hear them.
Salem warned that such incidents could affect the general attitude among Egyptian citizens, and no one can predict the timing of an implosion.
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