Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egyptian authorities dispersed anti-government protests at Cairo’s Tahrir Square using tear gas on Sunday.
Thousands of university students and political activists demonstrated at the square, calling for the annulment of a recent controversial protest law and for the punishment of those responsible for the murder of a Cairo University engineering student, who died from gunshot wounds last week.
Although the original protest was authorized by Egypt’s interior ministry, security sources claim that students associated with the Muslim Brotherhood infiltrated the demonstration and raised pro-Mursi banners and slogans, leading to its suppression.
Other supporters of Mursi tried to enter Tahrir Square during the demonstrations calling for the reinstatement of Mursi, but security forces prevented them from reaching the square.
The Interior Ministry gave permission for the demonstration on Sunday following an application by political activists and April 6 Movement member Mohamed Adel to hold a protest according to the new protest law. A source in the security services, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said “police provided security at the Tahrir protest following an application by Mohamed Adel to hold a protest in the Talaat Harb area which was approved by the authorities.”
The source said “legal measures were taken, and protesters were dealt with when the approved protest time elapsed with Brotherhood members remaining in the area,” adding that “following contact with Adel, it was determined that those groups had infiltrated the protest and that they had not been invited to participate. Measures were taken against them to end their protest according to the law.”
Adel, meanwhile, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “officers from Qasr Al-Nil Police Station denied that the Interior Ministry had approved the protest in Tahrir Square, despite the fact that they had received notification from the ministry of the approval.”
Adel refused to describe the protests as a Muslim Brotherhood protest. He said: “We reject the incitement [from the Brotherhood] against Cairo University students and their right to express their opinions peacefully.”
Security forces fired tear gas at the protesting students in Tahrir and two armored vehicles, as well as a fire engine, entered the square, forcing the protesters to flee towards Talaat Harb square.
Thousands of Cairo University students organized a protest on Sunday outside the university building in Giza. Ziad Ahmed, engineering student at Cairo University, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The protest condemned the killing of our fellow student Mohamed Reda and called for the annulment of the protest law, but some students tried to exploit the protest by raising pro-Mursi slogans.”
Reda was killed on Thursday when he was shot during clashes between Brotherhood students and the security forces at Cairo University.
Ahmed added: “An agreement was reached with Brotherhood students not to raise any slogans and to ensure there was only one aim for the protests, through the main march from the Faculty of Science to Tahrir Square. However, we found some of them raising pro-Mursi slogans and therefore violating our agreement, and they held prayers at the square.”
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Gen. Mohamed Ibrahim held a meeting with representatives of the student unions at universities on Saturday. A statement from the security forces: “The minister assured students that the Interior Ministry’s duty was to protect institutions and that it did not take sides and only focused on providing people with security.”
In a related development, the European Union high commissioner for foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton, on Sunday expressed “concern for recent events in Cairo.”
An official spokesman of the EU’s External Action Service said in a statement on Sunday: “The high commissioner has followed with great concern events related to the content of reports about the excessive use of force, arrests and disproportionate judicial sentences, which will hinder the course of democracy in the country. In addition to that, these procedures violate the rights and aspirations of Egyptian people, especially under the new protest law, and will not lead to real and sustainable security for the Egyptian people.”
The statement added: “Catherine Ashton has previously asked in a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa El-Din on November 27, for human rights to be respected at all times, especially in Egypt in the final stages of the drafting of the constitution.”