The armed forces stormed an Egyptian university campus premises for the first time on Tuesday, after student protests and the belief that five homemade bombs were on campus in students' possession.
The army has never been part of the forces facing the ongoing protests by students, most of whom are supporters of ousted islamist president Mohamed Morsi, but has been entitled to interfere after a law issued earlier this week, allowing the military to assist the police in guarding vital public facilities.
The law was issued after a brazen attack on the army in northern Sinai Peninsula, killing 31 troops and injuring 30 others, in the deadliest single assault in decades.
Students protesting at Mansoura University called for the release of their detained colleagues and denounced sending soldiers to the volatile borders, Al-Ahram’s Arabic news website reported. In a phone interview with private television channel Al-Hayat, the head of the university, Mohamed El-Qennawi said those students arrested will be investigated, then expelled.
"These students had bombs on campus, we cannot deal with them with leniency," El-Qennawi said.
At least one armoured military vehicle entered campus grounds, according to a student witness, police also entered the campus and fired tear gas to disperse the students, arresting a number of them.
"As soon as the protesting students started demonstrating and firing fireworks, police entered the campus presmises and started apprehending students," Salah Mohsen, a student at the university told Ahram Online.
On Monday, Egypt's Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab said that school children and university students accused of sabotaging educational facilities will be tried by military courts per the new law.
The new law was issued by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who holds supreme legislative power in the absence of a parliament, which authorities say will be elected by the end of this year.
Protests as well as clashes have been frequent at public universities since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. Hundreds of students have been arrested and detained on charges that include destroying public property and violating the protest law.
Since the start of the new semester on 11 October, police have stormed at least five universities and arrested over 180 students despite the government’s frequent assurance that police will only enter in during clashes or to respond to requests from university heads.
Early in the semester, one student died at Alexandria University after being wounded by a birdshot during clashes with police, while a bomb exploded at Cairo University last week injuring 11.
At least 19 students were killed in clashes on campuses last year while hundreds others were injured or arrested. The government has blamed the violence on students supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that has been banned and designated a terrorist organisation.