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Student activists angry after cabinet decision allows police on campus

Egyptian university activists speak out against Wednesday decision sanctioning police intervention on campuses; vow to defy it

Osman El Sharnoubi, Thursday 21 Nov 2013
Riot police form a line after Al-Azhar University students, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, blocked off Al Nasr street in front of Al-Azhar University headquarters at Cairo's Nasr City district, Tuesday, (Photo: Reuters).
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Egyptian university student activists are outraged following a cabinet decision to allow police onto campuses without the prior authorisation of university administrators or Egypt's prosecution.

In light of recent unrest facing universities nationwide, Egypt's cabinet decided on Thursday to allow police forces on campus as part of a number of "anti-terrorism" measures.

The decision comes one day after clashes between students and police at Cairo's Al-Azhar University left student Abdel Ghani Hammouda dead due to a shotgun wound.

"No way we'll allow them to have free reign on campus," Omar Saher, a Cairo University student and member of student activist group Muqawma ('Resistance'), told Ahram Online.

"I want to see them try, they'll enter over our dead bodies," Saher added. 

Saher, who is also a member of the 'Way of the Revolution Front' opposing both the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, rejected the government's justification for the decree, saying that there is nothing that would allow police intervention in student life.

In October, Al-Azhar students protested for the release of fellow students arrested during an off-campus demonstration against the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. The protesters had accused Egypt's military of orchestrating a 'coup' against the elected president.

In the process, students trashed Al-Azhar's headquarters, resulting in several arrests. Twelve students were sentenced to 17 years in prison for storming the building.

"Those protests were a result of the coup," Saher said. "Students don't wake up in the morning and decide to protest, protesting isn't an end in itself, they protest because of the authorities' actions," he added.

"There is absolutely no excuse; the university is a red line," said Halim Heneish, member of the activist group Youth for Justice and Freedom and a postgraduate student at Cairo University.

"The Mubarak regime is still ruling, this decree shows the continuing attempts at political repression."

Heneish, another Way of the Revolution Front member, does not support pro-Morsi students but says such measures against students must be resisted.

Heneish and Saher both said they will take part in protests against the decree.

"Security on campus should be left to the campus security staff," Heneish stated.

Haitham Gamal, a student at Cairo's Ain Shams University, affirmed that campus security was sufficiently equipped to prevent clashes against students, asserting that they were capable of maintaining order on campus.

However, Gamal told Ahram Online that campus security deliberately allowed pro-Morsi and pro-military students to clash at Ain Shams University on Tuesday, even joining ranks with the latter to beat pro-Morsi students.

For Gamal, allowing a police return to campus would be a step back to the days of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. During Mubarak's rule, security was able to ban all non-educational activities in universities. They also had the power to decide which students could become teaching assistants after graduation based on their political orientation.

"There is no justification for this decree whatsoever," Gamal deplored.

In October, students across Egyptian universities protested against a proposed cabinet bill granting university guards the right to arrest. The decree was subsequently shelved.

Liberal-leaning higher education minister Hossam Eissa has previously declared a staunch stance against the banning of political activity in universities.

Since Morsi's ouster, students in support of the former president have staged a number of university protests demanding his reinstatement.

Before Thursday's decree, security forces were stationed outside of campuses, limited only to preventing demonstrations from exiting campus grounds.

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