Al Azhar University students, who are members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, shout slogans against the military and the Interior Ministry as army soldiers stop them from marching towards Rabaa Al Adawiya square in Cairo, yesterday.
CAIRO: Pressed by police at every turn, Egypt’s Islamists have turned universities into protest hubs to galvanise their flagging movement four months after a military coup toppled president Mohamed Mursi.
Mursi’s loyalists have made no headway in trying to reinstate the jailed former president, but they continue almost daily protests nonetheless in a bid to force concessions from the military-appointed government.
“The coup authorities do not allow us to protest in the streets without cracking down,” said Mahmud Sabry, a student at Al Azhar University in Cairo.
“Universities are now our main battle front.”
At Al Azhar University, long seen as the highest seat of Sunni-Islamic learning, students have skirmished with police who fired tear gas from outside the university premises. In another protest at the university, students stormed classrooms to force an end to studies under what they called “military rule”.
The university is a short walk from Rabaa Al Adawiya square, which Mursi’s supporters transformed into a vast protest camp for weeks before police unleashed a deadly August 14 crackdown on the sit-in.
More than 1,000 people, mostly Islamists, were killed in the police operation and ensuing clashes, and 2,000 Islamists have been arrested in an extensive crackdown on Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement. Sabry said he wished he had been at the Rabaa Al Adawiya protest, but his father forbade him from going.
“Protesting at universities is a recompense,” he says. Since universities opened in September, students have held regular protests in campuses across the country, sometimes clashing with classmates who oppose Mursi.
On Sunday, hundreds of students protesting in Cairo University chanted “Mursi is my president” before scuffling with opponents inside the university as police and soldiers were stationed outside.
Clashes on campuses elsewhere have left dozens wounded, some by birdshot. The unrest has angered students who, like a sizable portion of the population, despise the Islamists, and school authorities have tried to restrict the protests.
The Supreme Council of Universities, which regulates state universities, issued guidelines banning students from protesting near classrooms.
The minister for higher education, Hossam Eissa, told reporters his government respected the right to peaceful protest. “But obstructing the educational process will not be tolerated,” he warned. Universities have been a haven for activists since a court decision banned guards belonging to the interior ministry from campuses in 2010.
Students played a leading role in overthrowing veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak in early 2011, and in mobilising protests that helped oust Mursi in July.
Some campuses, particularly Al Azhar, had been bastions of support for the Muslim Brotherhood — which has a long history of campus organising and student protests — but as in much of the rest of the country, the tide has turned against the Islamists.
Despite the arrest of Mursi, his senior aides and much of the Brotherhood’s top leadership, the group says it will persist in protests, hoping the rallies will attract ever larger numbers.
“Universities are a way to combine the energy of youths in one place,” said Amr Adel, an organiser with the Brotherhood-led Anti-Coup Alliance. But the crackdown on their top cadres, and the hostility of compatriots who often turn out to confront the Islamists at their demonstrations, have affected their ability to mobilise.
The Islamists say they are peaceful and that it is the police and civilian “thugs” who attack them. But they have not always shied away from confrontation.
On October 6, Islamist protesters tried to march on Cairo’s Tahrir Square as the military and thousands of supporters commemorated the anniversary of Egypt and Syria’s 1973 war with Israel.AFP