News & Reports

Egypt’s Academic Year Is Off to a Rough Start

CAIRO—The new academic year got off to a rough start at many Egyptian universities, as campus protests and violence reflected tensions between supporters of the nation’s military-backed government and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Clashes left 11 students injured in a single day’s protests at Zagazig University in the Nile Delta province of al-Sharqiya, birthplace of Mohamed Morsi, the deposed president, as Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated students held a rally outside the campus. Their march prompted opponents to stage a counter-protest that ended up with hit-and-run fighting with sticks and rocks. The university’s security personnel eventually dispersed the conflict, according to media reports including those from the state-run news agency.

Government officials said some campuses had opened peacefully. University administrators added security measures, such as closed circuit cameras, electronic gates, and training of private security guards, and debated the balance between letting students express themselves and making sure that education was not interrupted.

As the academic year was opening, the senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Essam El-Erian, who is in hiding, appeared in a video broadcast by the Al-Jazeera television network and appealed to students saying “I hail your persistence. . .I call upon you to unite as one body against the military coup, against the fascist coup.”

At Beni Suef University, located about 115 kilometers south of Cairo, Islamist students hurled stones at the army and police forces stationed off campus, prompting the police to fire guns in the air to disperse them. Two students were arrested.

Cairo University, which is located near the Al-Nahda sit-in that was cleared violently by security forces on August 14, has witnessed several rallies held by a group called “Students Against the Coup.” In a separate protest, engineering students performed funeral absentee prayers–a prayer performed when the body is not on the scene–for those who were killed during the August clashes.

Students at Cairo University chanted slogans against the military rule, raising yellow banners reading “Egypt will be free,” “Release detainees,” and “We are not going to give up. We will achieve victory or die.” Many students dressed up in yellow t-shirts bearing the four-finger symbol that refers to the pro-Morsi encampment at Rabaa al-Adaweya that was cleared by security forces on August 14.

Later, clashes escalated at Cairo University between anti-and pro Morsi students. Muslim Brotherhood students were chanting “Down with military rule,” “The coup is terrorism,” and “Rabaa is the symbol of resistance.” Anti-Morsi students countered with slogans such as “The brotherhood is terrorism.”

Sameh al-Nahy, a member of the Cairo University’s Student Union, said Muslim Brotherhood students were rioting at universities as they feel defeated elsewhere. Muslim Brotherhood students, he said, “are trying to spread misinformation among unpoliticized students about atrocities against them since Morsi’s ouster.” This, he said, “will increase the state of polarization at universities.”

Yet, al-Nahy confirmed that the Muslim Brotherhood’s strength among students at Cairo University is smaller than at universities in the countryside such as Mansoura or Tanta, where the group “uses religious banners to appease the already religious people there.”

At Mansoura University, pro-Morsi students have clashed with university employees, after preventing them from painting the four-fingered symbol on building walls.

Ahmad Galal, a university employee, said “clashes broke out at the premises of Medicine College between employees and pro-Morsi students that left a couple of employees injured.”

Scores of medical students at Ain Shams University staged a protest calling for the release of their colleagues who were detained while rescuing the injured during Cairo’s Ramsis Square violence on August 16, which left around 97 killed (the number released by the Muslim Brotherhood field hospital) and many others detained. Students were chanting slogans “We are doctors. We are not terrorists.” Students Against the Coup said that the protest will be staged on a daily basis until their colleagues are released.

Hazem Khater, a Salafi student in Islamic Al-Azhar University said the academic year was postponed till October 5 “because the security knew that Al-Azhar students are hard-core protesters and even if some have no political affiliation, they will fight for their religion.” Khater is from a pro-Morsi movement called Samedoon (We are steadfast).

Khater, who participated in pro-Morsi events in August, including the al-Nahda and Ramsis protests, said that “We do not want to get involved in clashes with our colleagues, our target is the police and army who hijacked the country.”

Around 300 students from engineering and law colleges in Tanta University, in Tanta city, were staging marches calling for the release of their colleagues who were protesting against what they described as “military coup.”

“Around 80 students from Tanta University have been arrested for more than 60 days,” said Mohamed Abdullah, a march participant. “We will continue protesting until they are released.”

At Helwan University, the institution’s deputy head, Samir al-Demerdash, expressed concerns about Egypt’s security situation. “If there is no security, no students will study,” he said.

Ahmed Ghoneim, spokesman for the Students Against the Coup, at Cairo University, said that a march of nearly 2,000 students moved from the faculty of sciences to the faculty of law. Ghoneim affirmed that the protests at Cairo University were peaceful, and will continue until “the coup is brought down.” Some students responded to the Brotherhood’s calls of civil disobedience, he said, and did not attend their classes.

Separately, in a widely reported incident, Cairo University’s campus security thwarted attempts by hard-core Muslim Brotherhood students to attack Egypt’s former grand mufti, Ali Gomaa, as he attended the thesis discussion of one of the faculty members at Dar Al-Oloum College. The students jeered the former grand mufti, who when he is in office is considered the highest official of religious law for Sunni muslims within a country. Ghoneim said that the students “chanted that the mufti must leave the premises of the university, but no action was taken either by the students or the mufti”.

The former grand mufti has been widely blamed by Islamists for giving his blessing to the overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. After the incident at Cairo University, Gomaa condemned on telelvision what he described as the “deluded Brotherhood youths,” who have been “brainwashed by the lies of the group’s leaders.”

It remains to be seen whether or not the protests will subside as the university season rolls on.

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