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