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Saeed Zakaria and Menna Emara: Defying Limits, Breaking Barriers

By Mohamed Kouta

Saeed Zakaria and Menna Emara say they have what it takes to restructure the Student Union and are running for president and vice-president respectively in tomorrow’s election.

An Accounting Senior and the current SU Events and Entertainment Chair, Zakaria has worked in a number of clubs on campus. He believes his skill set, matched with Emara’s – who is a Mechanical Engineering Senior, three-year SU veteran and current SU Associate HR Chair – will help in making bonds that will cement and strengthen the student organization.

“We are running together because Foza [Emara’s popular nickname] has worked with a lot of entities and committees in the Union and can bring that experience with her. Her HR experience on its own will help in making bonds and restructuring the Union. With my background in operations, I think we make a strong combination,” Zakaria told The Caravan. 

During an hour-long interview with The Caravan, the duo said that they will strive to maintain an equal balance between representation, services and entertainment.

Since you’ve both worked in the SU over the past year, how would you evaluate its performance? 

Z: There have been several successes, although no Union will ever achieve its full vision. The important thing is that they give a strong base for upcoming years, and I think that’s what they did.

E: I really believe that representation was strong this year. For example, we reduced the annual tuition increase down from 10-15 percent through petitions and negotiations with the administration.

I also think Amr Diab’s concert was a huge success, actually, but that might have something to do with the fact that I’m a huge fan.

Z: The point with Amr Diab is that we’ve been trying to get him for six years but couldn’t. Gadalla and Gazar’s vision was to ‘unify differences’ and this concert was an opportunity for the Union to reach out and empower other entities, like the First Year Experience [for freshmen].

And what about the challenges the Union has faced over the past year? 

Z: The biggest challenge was to ‘bring the Union within the Union.’ What I mean by this is to create a bond between the [committee] Chairs, especially since they come from very different backgrounds.

E: We really felt this in human resources. A lot of us weren’t even friends, so there wasn’t much common ground.

Were these differences because of camp politics? 

Z: What is a camp? They’re your friends; they are people you can depend on. But the differences in the Union wasn’t because of camps as much as it was that we didn’t know each other well.

But through working together, the Chairs all got closer together.

How will the Union stand between the camps and interact with them all? How ill you make sure that loyalty to the camp or differences between the camp doesn’t affect the Union when they want to take a certain action?

E: First of all, I’m not affiliated with any camp. I’m neutral. Saeed too, actually, will be neutral. Within the Union, our focus is on qualifications and personal qualities.

Z: To be clear, I’m in the red camp. The affiliation is there, but the two things that will never affect our decisions are political affiliation and gender.

The problem isn’t the camps disagree so much on what action to take, but more on who to lead it. In 2012, it was black. Last year, it was red. They all want to create a heritage and be remembered for that year. If they want to lead, we’ll let them lead. We can use that leadership.

And how will you plan on making sure this type of decision-making doesn’t happen in the future, and what will you do if it does? 

Z: First, our slogan is “Defy The Limits.” We reached this by looking at slogans from previous years and what we found was that they all tried to unify the students, because they noticed strong barriers between them.

This is what we want to do. When we break the barriers between students, we will have stronger negotiating power. When there are only 35 students who protested against the Niqab Ban… That’s a very small number. When tuition almost doubles overnight and only 1,500 students go on strike… That’s an achievement, yes, but I think this goes back to the students.

And what will you do as SU leaders to break these barriers and reach the student body? 

Z: I think communication is key. The SU has a Communications Committee and we will try to reach every student.

Of course, we wont be able to remove all these barriers, but the point is to set the ground for those after us to get there so that in the future, when the SU speaks to the administration, they are truly representing all students.

At this point, the administration will know that the SU is backed by the entire student body.

How do you plan to deal with the policies that have already been implemented? 

E: If you read our plan, you’ll see that, for example with regards to the Niqab Ban, we plan to increase the number of female security guards. Right now, there’s only one at Bus Gate.

The administration is saying that the reason for this policy is that they are afraid someone hidden under the niqab uses a student ID to enter campus, but more female security guards means that security-wise any concerns about security are addressed.

As for the smoking policy, we know that there are phases but we are going to negotiate with the administration and gather petitions from students. How can we say that the Niqab Ban is a security issue then ask hundreds of students to step outside campus to smoke? This is a contradiction.

I understand that there are people who think this is a good policy and their opinion must be respected. So,our solution is to increase the number of designated areas so that we protect students while also giving others the freedom to smoke.

Aside from these policies, what are your major concerns with the administration?

E: Mostly that we need to be more involved in making and taking decisions. You can’t come out and say this is a safety issue and we’ve taken this decision and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Communicating with every single student is impossible, but they need to know that the Union represents them and it’s not just our own.

You can say that petitions worked when it came to the fees, but that was an issue that affected every student. But with smoking or the niqab, that’s more limited. How can you guarantee the same wide support? 

Z: With smoking I can agree that students are divided, but with the niqab I don’t think so as much. I think that practically everyone agrees that it shouldn’t be banned.

As President Ricciardone said in his interview with Insider, his main problem is that he can’t see who’s wearing the niqab. But there are plenty of ways you can do that – you can even get an eye scanner.

As for the petitions themselves, the Union has a lot of resources that it can use to reach out to different sectors. We have the SU Lounge, we have the Help Desk – these are all ways we can reach out to students.

Menna and I, as we said in our plan, are also going to digitize everything so that we can expand our reach, but also provide services like offering mentors to students, connecting freshman and juniors or seniors together, and more. At the same time, we want to make the Help Desk more interactive.

To remove these barriers with the student body, the Union needs to be visible all the time. There never used to be all these entities and associations.

It’s great that they are there now, but the Union is still the core. We should be the ones empowering them. It is through these entities and associations that we can connect with students.

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