Egyptian universities start new year with more protests

Marina Barsoum , Sunday 12 Oct 2014

Limited protests at six public universities to denounce private security firms on campus, latest round-up of alleged anti-government students

Police and staff from Falcon, a private security company, look at damaged security scanner equipment belonging to Falcon, after clashes between students, security personnel and demonstrators from a pro-Muslim Brotherhood movement known as the Students Against the Coup, at a gate of Al-Azhar University in Nasr City district October 12, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

Students gathered at several Egyptian campuses on Sunday to demonstrate against hired Falcon private security firm and the detainment of their colleagues.

At Cairo University, security forces stormed into the campus to disperse students who were chanting against military rule and the recent arrests of their fellow students.

A statement on the interior ministry's Facebook page said the protests were led by not less than 220 members of the "terrorist Muslim Brotherhood" and didn't interrupt the day's academic activities.

Khaled Imam, a student at the protest, described a rapid response by security forces, who arrived in "less than two minutes" and dispersed the protest without firing tear gas or ammunition.

The interior ministry said that the security forces had been called by the head of the university to disperse the students.

No students were arrested, Imam said, and all entrances to the university were promptly closed, with students corralled inside to prevent the situation from escalating.

Seventy-eight students were arrested from their homes nationwide between Saturday and early Sunday – the first days of the new academic year at public universities nationwide.

The interior ministry has not released any statement on the arrests so far.

Ahmed Shaaban, a spokesperson for the university student group of April 6 – a leading activist movement which played a major role in the 2011 uprising – told Ahram Online that many of the detained students are supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi or members of the Students Against the Coup group, which has protested against Egypt's authorities on university campuses since Morsi's ouster in July of last year.

Cairo University student Omar Saher told Ahram Online Sunday's protest was also held to denounce Falcon security forces – a private security firm that the ministry of higher education recently hired to guard 15 public universities, including Ain Shams, Al-Azhar and Cairo Universities.

Despite the private firm stepping up its security measures at the campuses, students still gathered throughout the day to protest.

Tens of students protested at Alexandria University to demand the release of detained students and chant against the police and army, while also shooting off fireworks, according to Al-Ahram's Arabic news website and the interior ministry.

Fireworks were also shot at Ain Shams University in Cairo, as part of a 150-person demonstration, according to the interior ministry. Seven students were arrested.

At Cairo and Al-Azhar universities, 200 student protesters broke three electronic gates installed by Falcon, the interior ministry said, without naming the security firm directly.

Police fired tear gas to disperse students at Al-Azhar's male campus in the east district of Nasr City, according to the school's student union president Mohamed Atef.

Protests also took place at Helwan University in south Cairo and Mansoura in the Nile Delta.

Speaking on Sunday at a conference at Menoufiya University in the Nile Delta, El-Sayed Abdel-Khalek, minister of higher education, said that all students who protested will be expelled by the evening. 

Egypt's public universities were the scene for frequent clashes last year between police and students, with least 14 students killed and hundreds jailed for illegal protesting or participating in the violence.

Hundreds of students were also either expelled or suspended from universities nationwide.

The university protests increased throughout the academic year, in contrast to street protests elsewhere, which dwindled due to a strong crackdown by authorities and the passing of a law banning all but police sanctioned demonstrations.

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