In recent weeks, tension has been rising as clashes between the police and students in Egypt intensify, leading to some of the country’s top universities being shut as demonstrations take a heavy toll. Since early November, at least two students have been killed and hundreds more injured or arrested.
Egyptian universities have experienced their fair share of tumult since the start of the Arab Spring protests in the year 2010, but recently the situation reached a boiling point. Security forces were forced into a crackdown after the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in July triggered student protests against the military-backed government.
An Egyptian group that monitors academic freedom, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, has denounced a “widespread violation of universities’ independence and the rights and freedoms of their students.”
The Islamic university of Al-Azhar and Cairo University are the most notable universities where protests have taken place. Islamist students who were against the military’s removal of Mr. Morsi originally led protests. Additionally, in mid August, the same students demanded justice for hundreds of pro-Morsi demonstrators killed when the police cleared a sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in Cairo. However, the protests have been joined by students with a broad range of political beliefs as the police crackdown has intensified.
In campuses, the role of security has long been a sensitive issue. Academic affairs, rigging student-union elections, vetting the content of conferences and events and interfering in academic appointments were encroached by police and intelligence officers when Hosni Mubarak was president. For years, a key demand of student and faculty activists was banning the police from university campuses. After the Government was sued in 2011 by several professors at Cairo University, a court banned the police from Egyptian universities. However, last month, Egypt’s cabinet issued a decision allowing the security forces to return to campuses.
“I’m concerned that now there are strong and high voices which want again total control of the university by the police, which for me is disastrous,” said Mohamed Abul-Ghar, a professor involved in the 2011 case and a leader of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.
The main campus of the Islamic university of Al-Azhar which has close to half a million students is in Cairo. Most preachers in the country are trained in the university which is a historic center of learning in the Arab world. The university’s leadership supporting the ouster of Mr. Morsi has been to blame according to Islamist groups active on the campus and in the student union. A running battle was set off in late October after the administration asked the police to enter the campus to quell protests.
According to Ursula Lindsey of The New York Times, Mohamed Reda, a freshman engineering student at Cairo University was shot and killed on Nov. 28 in a clash with the police at the university gates. The police conduct was defended by the interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, who said that the students had blocked traffic and thrown stones at police officers. Additionally, he said the student was killed by his fellow students.
A statement condemning the security forces’ “direct attack” on the university was issued by the university’s president, Gaber Nassar. The interior minister’s statement was called“fabrication” by the college’s students. Since Mr. Reda’s death, clashes have escalated.