The Battles at Egyptian Universities Broaden
CAIRO—A fresh spate of clashes broke out across Egypt between university students and security forces and claimed the life of a 19-year-old student on November 28, followed by tougher clashes that left dozens injured and arrested. The student was the second one to die from the university-related violence.
“The security violence against students is worse than the Mubarak regime that people ousted after the 25th January revolution, at least we did not see students being killed during Mubarak’s tenure,” said Gamal Eid, a human-rights activist. The student deaths are broadening the conflict beyond strict pro-Morsi, anti-military lines, with members of the Cairo university administration and others objecting to the government’s use of violence.
The authorities arrested 15 students whom the government called “rioters,” while at least 36 people were injured during clashes on one day alone last week, at Cairo and Al-Azhar universities, according to a health ministry announcement.
Students favoring the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, staged protests at many universities in response to calls by the Islamist Coalition, “National Alliance to Support Legitimacy.”
Due to the unrest, Cairo University ended the fall semester in the middle of last week at the engineering faculty, because engineering students were angered by the death of their fellow student, Mohamed Reda, 19, who was shot dead by security forces during a pro-Morsi protest on campus in November.The fall semester normally ends in mid-January. Earlier in November, a medical student at Al-Azhar was shot and killed.
At Cairo, “exams [for undergraduates and postgraduates] will take place on time on 28 December,” the university said in a statement. “Students will only be tested on what was actually covered in lectures and not the complete projected syllabus.”
Student resentment from the violence by security forces on-campus was backed by professors as dean of Cairo University’s engineering department, Sherif Murad, and his deputies submitted their resignations to the university’s president, Gaber Nassar. Sherif Shehata, assistant professor at the faculty of engineering told Ahram Online that the administrator’s resignation came in protest of the recent events.
“The situation has become unbelievable,” said Shehata.“Students don’t feel safe on campus anymore especially after the killing of their colleague.”
Mohamed Reda’s death on November 28 has triggered a wave of almost daily off-campus protests in other universities where students portrayed him as a new icon who will be a driving force for widespread protests, given that he was not Muslim Brotherhood supporter, according to several students from engineering college who knew him.
Reda died from “three gunshot wounds” according to an initial forensic report, but the interior ministry said it was not responsible. The interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, said the birdshot rounds were not police issue: The shot had to have come from someone else.
“I appeal to students that they wake up and not drift after vandals, I speak to their sense of nationalism,” Ibrahim said in a televised press conference last week, after clashes at Cairo University.
Ibrahim said that what is going on inside Egyptian universities is a “conspiracy against Egypt and following the June 30 protests to bring back the Muslim Brotherhood to the political scene.”
“There is no room to discuss the student who died in the most recent clashes,” he said. “The prosecution’s investigations will have the last word on this.”
The prosecution issued a statement on Monday saying that a preliminary investigation indicated that protesters were responsible for his death. The minister said that he has asked security forces to withdraw from Nahda Square, close to Cairo University, so as not to have conflicts with students.
But Hazem Hossam, a forensic pathologist at Cairo’s Zeinhom morgue, who has seen the final autopsy report, said that Reda was killed by four-millimeter birdshot rounds, the same type that killed dozens at Mohamed Mahmoud Street during the protests against the military junta in November 2011.
The state-run Cairo University administration was for the first time lashing back at the governmental security forces, saying in a statement two days after Reda’s death that it strongly condemns the security forces for throwing tear gas canisters and using birdshot inside the engineering faculty.
“What happened is totally unacceptable and the security services are responsible for it as they have exceeded all limits, deliberately chasing the students even after they entered campus, killing Mohamed Reda of the Faculty of Engineering and injuring others,” the statement said.
Cairo students who were involved in clashes with police said they were pushed back into campus.
“Security forces kept firing through the university gates, and since the engineering college is at close range of fire, Mohamed Reda was killed,” said Ali Mostafa, Reda’s colleague at Engineering Faculty who said that he and Reda are anti-Morsi. “But since Reda died in front of my eyes and I could not rescue him, from now on, I will defend his case by protesting against police even if they suspended the semester, keeping my anti-Morsi position.”
The earlier death of a student did not create as much protest, some students say, because the student killed was Islamist. But observers say even the latest killing is being used politically.
“The Muslim Brotherhood is using students in an attempt to exploit the anger against the police for their own political benefits,” said, Abdul Satar el-Meligy, ex-Muslim Brotherhood member who split from the group in 2004. At the same time, the police, he said, are trying to say that pro-Morsi students were responsible for the latest death.
The security crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood leaders has left Egyptian universities the only outlet for protesting against the military. Other traditional sites of mobilization, including the streets, have been heavily policed in the months since Morsi ouster. A draconian new protest law, passed on November 24, has made public gatherings even more difficult.
Student activism has long been an incubator for Egypt’s future politicians. Former Muslim Brotherhood leader Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh famously used his platform as an elected student leader in the 1970s to criticize former president Anwar Sadat during a live televised debate.
The Brotherhood also has a long history of handpicking its members from university campuses.
“These have been one of two major recruitment points for the Brotherhood,” said Sameh Fayez, a Muslim Brotherhood member who split from the group and ended up writing a book about his experience with the group entitled Ganet al-Ikhwan ( Paradise of Brotherhood) “Muslim Brotherhood structure is based on the concept of Osra or family [local Brotherhood groups of seven members], you always have somebody whose job is to be in charge of recruitment, and that person usually spends a lot of time in universities.” Fayez said.