Academic year at Azhar University crippled by anti-army protests

Ayat Al-Tawy , Sunday 20 Oct 2013

Pro-Morsi protests at Al-Azhar University hinder start of classes, trigger turmoil and lead to the arrest of seven students

Azhar University
A student sets fire to sticks during clashes with riot police in front of the main offices of Al-Azhar University in Cairo October 20, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

Several hundred students on Sunday protested at Al-Azhar University's two Cairo campuses against what they called the "coup" that toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, as well as "security interference" in academic affairs.

Seven students were arrested, security sources told Ahram Online.

Demonstrators also called for the release of fellow students rounded up during the political unrest that followed Morsi's ouster, state news agency MENA said.

Security forces were deployed outside the university headquarters to quell the protests. Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd in the vicinity of the campus after protesters reportedly tried to march to the nearby Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque -- site of a major pro-Morsi protest camp which was forcibly dispersed mid-August, leaving hundreds dead. 

Eyewitnesses said protesting students blocked off the Al-Nasr Road in northeast Cairo's Nasr City district, where Al-Azhar's main campus is located.

"Dozens are protesting here in Al-Darrassa Campus. They are cursing the administration, the professors and Al-Azhar's Grand Imam," medicine professor Mohamed Abdel-Fattah told Ahram Online.

Although television footage showed a number of students hurling stones at security forces from inside the university grounds, assistant lecturer Osama Refaat told Ahram Online that "the crowding is only outside the campus. Everything inside is entirely stable and without tension. I have been here for an hour and I haven't seen any fighting on campus."

Student activists affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood were not immediately available for comment.

A sustained clampdown by security forces on the Brotherhood has severely crippled the group's ability to muster street support, prompting them to turn sights on campuses, usual hotbeds of political activism.

Thousands of students sympathising with Morsi and his Brotherhood have staged protests at universities in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities since the start of the new academic year late September, and many have been arrested, security forces said. 

The political schism between opposing students has also led to recurrent clashes, causing numerous injuries and several detentions.

The Sunday demonstration comes in the second day of the start of classes at the prestigious university -- the highest authority of Sunni Islam -- already twice delayed on security grounds, and despite warnings by administrators against political activities at the university. 

University President Osama El-Abed had urged students on Saturday to commit to acquiring knowledge and withdraw from on-campus political activism.

On Saturday, hundreds of the university students staged demonstrations at the Nasr City campus and blocked the Al-Nasr Road to decry the "coup," call for the return of the deposed president and demand the dismissal of Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb. No demonstrations were reported on the other Cairo campus.

El-Tayeb, along with other religious and political figures, had endorsed Morsi's ouster, appearing on TV alongside army chief Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and other political and religious figures when the latter announced the move on 3 July.

Morsi's backers have decried his ouster as a coup and a violation of democracy, but the army said it had responded to the people's will after millions protested against Morsi's divisive year-long rule.

MENA quoted El-Abed on Sunday as saying a delay of classes is on the cards if turmoil persists.

Short link: