[Marxism] In Egypt, Clashes Between Students and Police Are Roiling Campuses

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 18 04:38:44 MST 2013

Chronicle of Higher Education December 17, 2013
In Egypt, Clashes Between Students and Police Are Roiling Campuses

By Ursula Lindsey


Clashes between police officers and students in Egypt have risen in 
intensity in recent weeks, partly shutting down some of the country's 
top universities and taking a heavy toll on demonstrators. At least two 
students have been killed and hundreds more injured or arrested since 
the beginning of November.

Since the start of the Arab Spring protests, in 2010, Egyptian 
universities have experienced their fair share of tumult as the country 
struggles to shape its political future. But recently the situation has 
reached a fever pitch. The ouster of President Mohamed Morsi last July 
triggered student protests against the military-backed government, 
resulting in a controversial crackdown by security forces.

The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, an Egyptian group 
that monitors academic freedom, has denounced a "widespread violation of 
universities' independence and the rights and freedoms of their students."

Protests have taken place at universities across the country, but the 
two that have seen the most unrest are the Islamic university of 
al-Azhar and the national Cairo University.

The protests were originally led by Islamist students who were against 
the military's removal of Mr. Morsi and who called for justice for 
hundreds of pro-Morsi demonstrators killed when the police cleared a 
sit-in at Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, in mid-August. But as the 
police crackdown has intensified, students with a broad range of 
political beliefs have joined the protests.

The role of security forces on campuses has long been a sensitive issue 
here. Under the rule of President Hosni Mubarak, police and intelligence 
officers encroached on academic affairs, rigging student-union 
elections; vetting the content of conferences and events; and 
interfering in academic appointments. Banning the police from university 
campuses was a key demand of student and faculty activist groups for years.

In 2011 a court banned the police from Egyptian universities after 
several professors at Cairo University sued the government. But last 
month, Egypt's cabinet issued a decision allowing security forces to 
return to university campuses.

"I'm concerned that now there are strong and high voices which want 
again total control of the university by the police, which for me is 
disastrous," said Mohamed Abul-Ghar, one of the professors involved in 
the 2011 case and a leader of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.
Tear Gas on Campuses

The Islamic university of al-Azhar, which has its main campus in Cairo, 
has close to half a million students. The university is a historic 
center of learning in the Arab world and is where most preachers in the 
country are trained. Various Islamist groups are active on the campus 
and in the student union; they blame the university's leadership for 
supporting the military coup. In late October the administration asked 
the police enter the campus to quell protests, which has resulted in a 
running battle.

Police forces have surrounded the university and fired tear gas inside; 
they have raided dormitories and classrooms. In clashes between students 
and the police, students threw rocks and Molotov cocktails; the police 
fired bird shot at them. A dozen students were given 17-year sentences 
on charges of rioting and trying to break into administration buildings.

At Cairo University, a freshman engineering student named Mohamed Reda 
was shot and killed on November 28 in a clash with the police at the 
university gates. Mohamed Ibrahim, the Egyptian minister of the 
interior, defended the conduct of the police, saying that the students 
had blocked traffic and thrown stones at policemen. He also claimed that 
Mr. Reda had been killed by fellow students.

Gaber Nassar, the university's president, issued a statement condemning 
the security forces' "direct attack" on the university and the College 
of Engineering. The college's student union called the interior 
minister's statement a "fabrication." Clashes between students and the 
police have escalated since Mr. Reda's death.

Last week the engineering dean and three of his deputies resigned in 
protest. Sherif Mourad, the dean, told The Chronicle he had done so 
because he could not "secure the safety of my students." He said that 
when the police fire tear gas onto the campus, "this is not a learning 
'Both Sides Are to Blame'

Egypt's interim government recently passed a much-criticized law 
severely restricting the right to protest. Officials have consistently 
presented unrest at universities as violent and as fomented by the 
Muslim Brotherhood. Students dispute that assertion.

Youssef Salheen, a 21-year-old student in the faculty of languages and 
translation at al-Azhar, is a member of the student union and of the 
group Students Against the Coup. He said that he was not a member of the 
Muslim Brotherhood and that the repression on the campus had led many 
students to join the protests.

"They accused us of setting fire to our dorms," said Mr. Salheen. 
"That's not logical. We are living there. Why would I set fire to my 
dorm where I live, and my school where I learn?"

At Cairo University, the crackdown against student demonstrators led the 
protests to escalate as students in non-Islamist political factions 
joined in.

"The problem became bigger when non-Muslim Brotherhood students joined 
Muslim Brotherhood students in the demonstrations," said Mr. Abul-Ghar, 
the Cairo University professor. "If the police keep away, probably 
things will calm down and the situation will be OK."

"Both sides are to blame. Students are initiating contact, and the 
police are behaving in a bad way," said Mr. Mourad, the former 
engineering dean. "This is a university. It is not a place to practice 
politics or violence."

At al-Azhar, students are calling for the university president to step 
down, for the release of detained students, for an investigation into 
the violence, and for the police to stay off the campus.

The university's deputy president, Tawfiq Noureddin, has said that 
"vandals" will not be allowed to "tamper" with the university. On an 
Egyptian TV talk show last week, Mustafa Argawy, a dean of the faculty 
of Islamic and Arabic studies at al-Azhar, accused the protesting 
students of being paid by the Muslim Brotherhood. He said that the 
protesters wanted to give the university and Egypt a bad name abroad, 
and that there was no negotiating with them.

Mr. Salheen, the al-Azhar student, said there was no use negotiating 
with the university administration and the interim government, which he 
described as "criminals."

"They're accusing us of being terrorists," said the student. "We don't 
kill, detain, or torture anybody, but they do."

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