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Student protests not peaceful, protest law needs amendment: Fact-finding report

Fact-finding committee blames students for university violence, while says that protest law is both vague and heavy-handed

Ahram Online , Wednesday 26 Nov 2014
student protests
Protesters shout slogans against the military and interior ministry, while gesturing with four fingers in front of riot police after blocking Al Nasr street in front of Al-Azhar University headquarters at Cairo's Nasr City district, November 19, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
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Violence at Egypt's universities in the wake of president Mohamed Morsi's ouster last year left 14 students and four security personnel dead, according to a fact-finding report released on Wednesday.

The report, which covered the events since 30 June 2013, marking the mass demonstrations that led to Morsi's ouster, said that all state universities witnessed violence in recent months.

Focusing on three universities, the report stated that seven students died at Cairo University, two students died at Ain Shams University and six at Al-Azhar University, in addition to several injuries at all three.

Four policemen were killed, including an officer and three soldiers.

Egyptian universities have become a hub for pro-Morsi demonstrations as a government crackdown on the Islamist president's supporters has weakened their ability to mobilise elsewhere.

Protests quickly turned violent throughout the last academic year as students and security forces clashed on campus as well as outside the university gates. Al-Azhar University, an Islamist stronghold, saw the most violence.

The report blamed the violence on the protests' unpeaceful nature. It stated that the students' violence was systematic and funded and planned by the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters. Several faculty teaching staff were involved in the violence, it added.

Protesters tried to sabotage the teaching process in several ways including barring students from reaching their classes and interrupting lectures.

The report further added that police practiced gradual use of force when confronting non-peaceful protests.

The recommendations included:

Amending the protest law to give the university authority to approve demonstrations.

Stationing police at university gates, with forces allowed on campus after the approval of the university head and for the purpose of controlling crimes that cannot be controlled by administrative security.

Training administrative security and granting them the authority of arrest.

Holding meetings with students to raise awareness so as not to leave them susceptible to extremism.

Protest law

Regarding the controversial protest law issued last year, which bans all but police sanctioned demonstrations, the report said it was necessary to have such a law to minimise what it described as the chaos after Morsi's ouster.

It added however that the law needs amendments, criticising the lack of clarity in defining terms in the law like "public meetings" and "hindering production". Specifically, the report said that the law doesn't regulate the police when no permits are requested ahead of a protest or limit the interior minister's right to ban or move the venue of a peaceful protest.

The report also criticised the harsh sentences given in case the law is broken. It added that the law might be unconstitutional as it requires approval from authorities while the constitution guarantees the right to protest by notification only.

A controversial protest law was issued in November of last year requiring demonstrations to obtain a permit from authorities.

Political groups and parties have frequently slammed the law as undemocratic and unconstitutional.

Several activists have been arrested and sentenced in accordance with the protest law.

Prominent activists Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel from the April 6 movement, Egyptian Current activist Ahmed Douma as well as blogger Alaa Abdel-Fattah are among those serving prison sentences for breaching the law.

Hundreds of Islamists have also been prosecuted based on the law.

The fact-finding committee's report also covered the dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-ins in August 2014 and the attacks on churches that followed. It also discussed the treatment of detainees and prisoners arrested during the violence.
 

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