The long legal dispute between Nile University and Zewail City of Science and Technology over a campus on the outskirts of Cairo is coming to an end, after the Supreme Administrative Court in Egypt ruled in favour of giving the campus back to Nile University (NU).
This morning, the court refused two appeals from Chemistry Nobel laureate Ahmed Zewail and the Egyptian government to give the disputed land and buildings, which originally belong to the government, to Zewail City. The court also ruled on accepting a request from Nile University to change it from a private university to a civil university, or a fully independent not-for-profit university, one of NU’s long standing requests.
Ever since the popular uprising that ousted Mubarak two years ago, the future of Nile University has been in doubt when their new campus – which the researchers at the university had moved into less than a month earlier – was reallocated by the government to Zewail City. Since then, both parties have been engaged in a dragged out legal battle over the campus, each claiming they have a right to it.
The new ruling, which comes from one of the highest courts, leaves no place for any new appeals. Nile University is supposed to move into the campus, which leaves an uncertain future for Zewail City.
“I am ‘cautiously’ optimistic,” says Moustafa Ghanem, the vice president for research of NU. “Clearly a verdict with no implementation is useless – just another piece of paper. We have been there before. But I do hope that the government will implement the decision quickly.”
Sherif Fouad, the Zewail City media spokesperson, said the City respects the decision of the court and will follow all needed procedures. “Nile University can deal with the Egyptian government about the ruling and the effect it will have and we will oblige. We are not in dispute with any party, the case was always between Nile University and the government, not Zewail City.”
Applying the ruling would be a tricky business, however. Since taking over the campus, Zewail City has spent over 300 million Egyptian pounds (~US$44 million) on preparing the laboratories, offices and facilities, according to Fouad.
Ghanem contends this is an issue that can be discussed between NU, Zewail City and the Egyptian government once the NU students and staff move in. “A rational solution can be found once Nile University gains access to the campus and all three parties can sit down and discuss. It has been irrationality and absurdity that had marred this whole situation over the past two years and I don’t think we should be repeating this.”
Several months before the final ruling today, Sherif Sedky, the founding provost of Zewail University, has confirmed that no matter what happens, the project will continue, since its core was the team of researchers and academics they have built, not the buildings. Following the ruling, Fouad quickly sent out a press release stressing the project was still alive. “We are absolutely sure that the Egyptian government will follow up on its promises to support the project.”
“I hope we will be in next week, before the end of April,” says Ghanem. “But let’s see the legal loopholes, various interpretations and media and political games. More than two years of the students’ life have already been unfairly wasted. This is shame, it should not go on for much longer. “