Egypt's decision to grant university guards arrest powers sparks fears

Ahram Online, Thursday 5 Sep 2013

A decision to grant campus security guards the right to arrest students was issued Wednesday, sparking fears about a return to the time when politically-active students were targeted

Cairo University
Cairo University (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

A decision to give university security guards the power to arrest students has ignited debate among the university community.

The new decision gives campus security guards the right to arrest any student who commits actions that are punishable by law, as well as allowing guards to file complaints against arrested students. Students would then be sent to state prosecutors for investigation.

In October 2010, Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court upheld a verdict to remove police from university campuses, after they had become notorious for their heavy-handed tactics against students and their targeting of politically-active members of the student body. Administrative security guards were hired instead.

"Did we remove the interior ministry's police to give their remits to civilians?" asked Islam Fawzy, head of Helwan University Student Union, in a statement to Al-Ahram's Arabic news website on Thursday.

Hisham Ashraf, head of Cairo University Student Union, stressed his disapproval of the decision, adding that "the granting of the right of arrest to security personnel is unacceptable. Campus security guards are [civilian] employees, so how are we to supply them with powers that they cannot apply?"

However Mohamed Ezzat, head of Kafr El-Sheikh Student Union, told Al-Ahram that he supported the decision provided there are reasonable grounds for arrest such as being found in possession of weapons or drugs.

According to Ezzat Khamis, spokesman for Egypt's justice ministry, the decision comes in a bid to limit rioting and violence at university campuses, especially given that Egypt has been experiencing increased political polarisation since the removal of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July.

In a press release issued Thursday morning, students of the Popular Current movement expressed their disapproval of the decision, issued by the Supreme Council for Universities.  

"Granting security personnel the right to arrest paves the way for the university administration's increased involvement in student activity again," said the group.

Students of the Popular Current movement urged Egypt's Deputy Prime Minister Hossam Eissa to halt this decision.

"We urge Eissa, who is one of the 25 January revolution's most prominent figures and one of those interested in resuming the revolution, to set up a committee tasked with providing initiatives and suggesting solutions to improve the student body's essential rights."

Eissa attempted to respond to such fears by stating that there is no intention to use this right to clamp down on politically-active students or to facilitate the return of state security.

"This is far from being the case. The right to arrest will be exercised on students who have committed crimes that are punishable by law--like taking drugs or performing acts against the administration, carrying out attacks on public buildings as well as attacking students and professors with weapons."

The decision was taken after demands by university presidents to be granted the right to arrest spiked in the Supreme Council for Universities last meeting.

In an attempt to recommend alternatives to the decision of the right to arrest, Hisham Ashraf, head of Cairo University Student Union, suggested delegating the responsibility of protecting campus security to private security companies.

Ashraf added that the student union is to meet with Gaber Nassar, president of Cairo University, to discuss students' opinions regarding this issue amongst others. "Dr. Nassar assured us that the right to arrest will be applied only if we want so."

The meeting is scheduled to take place on 15 September.

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