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Egypt: Police break-up Al-Azhar protests - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Egyptian security forces stand guard in front of the Al-Azhar Islamic university in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday,Oct. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Ahmed Abd El Latef, El Shorouk)

Egyptian security forces stand guard in front of the Al-Azhar Islamic University in Cairo, Egypt, on Wednesday, October 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Ahmed Abd El Latef, El Shorouk)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Egyptian government called for an urgent review of security on the country’s university campuses on Wednesday after violent protests and clashes among students were suppressed by police.

Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi said it was essential to provide security in universities and that university administrations should cooperate with the government in this regard.

Students affiliated with ousted president Mohamed Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood stormed the offices of the dean of Al-Azhar University on Wednesday, and reportedly broke down the doors of the university’s main entrance and attacked staff.

Police entered the university campus in eastern Cairo for the first time since the beginning of the academic year two weeks ago, following appeals for intervention to the Ministry of Interior by university Chancellor Osama El-Abed. As clashes continued between Brotherhood students and others who supported the army at the Al-Mansoura University, 30 students were arrested and dozens were injured.

Brotherhood students escalated their protests at universities across Egypt on Wednesday. They called for Mursi’s return to power and the release of detained students amid scenes of violence and destruction of property. Observers said the violence may have been a reaction to the arrest of leading Brotherhood figure Essam El-Erian on Wednesday. They added that Erian “was in contact with university students on a large scale through intermediaries.”

Brotherhood students increased their activities in several universities in cities that have witnessed political disturbances since Mursi’s removal from power last July.

A source in the Egyptian security forces told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the chancellor of Al-Azhar University asked for police intervention after Brotherhood students surrounded him inside his office.”

The Ministry of the Interior said in an official statement on Wednesday that it intervened “when the university chancellor requested that police enter the university campus to protect lives and property, and after the public prosecution gave permission for police to enter the campus and deal with the incidents.”

In another development, the public prosecution service will begin interrogating 25 Muslim Brotherhood suspects accused of charges including assaulting police officers, affray, obstructing the public highway and possession of arms following violent clashes between police and Al-Azhar students last week. A total of eight people were injured, including a police officer, when students tried to breach the security cordon around the university and head for Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square, which has held symbolic importance for the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters since the end of a sit-in there last August.

Lectures at Al-Azhar University were postponed for nearly a month due to fears of clashes between students and security forces. The Muslim Brotherhood has been holding protests in a number of cities around Egypt since the ouster of Mursi at the beginning of July, leading authorities to impose a state of emergency and an evening curfew in 14 governorates.

The chancellor of Al-Azhar, Osama El-Abed, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “any student who is found to have broken the law will be dealt with very severely.” He added that university lectures will not be allowed to be disrupted for any reason.

A source at the university said: “Many Al-Azhar leaders have asked the government to bring the guards back to this university and other universities in Egypt, and they sent a message regarding that to the Egyptian prime minister.”

The administrative court in Egypt decided on October 23, 2010, to remove university guards appointed by the interior ministry from university campuses. That was followed by a decision to establish an administrative security force to secure the university campus, a civilian force which was hired by universities through private security firms.

Throughout history, universities in Egypt have been a source of protests, political activism and irritation to the authorities since the days of British occupation. There are 26 public universities and 27 private universities, with hundreds of colleges and approximately two million students.

Some universities and political parties have demanded that police be returned to universities, saying the move would restore stability and calm. Others say this would represent an intrusion and would lead to political activity at universities being curtailed.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Al-Mansoura, Alexandria and Halwan universities witnessed protests when Brotherhood students clashed with their adversaries. In Alexandria, dozens of students stormed the main offices of the university in protest at what they described as the oppression of Al-Azhar students. The Ministry of Health, meanwhile, announced that 145 students were injured in clashes at Al-Mansoura University between Brotherhood and opposing students.