Egypt’s Public Prosecution authorised police forces to enter Al-Azhar University’s campus on Wednesday upon the request of university chairman Osama Al-Abd.
Al-Abd had asked security forces to enter campus to protect “lives and public properties” after a group of students broke into the university’s administrative building on Wednesday. Al-Azhar students have been holding daily protests mainly against the “military coup” which led to the unseating of former president Mohamed Morsi since the start of the university’s academic year on 19 October.
Upon Al-Abd’s request, the Ministry of Interior filed a report to the Public Prosecution to issue its directions on the matter.
Students had reportedly ended their protest shortly after the building was stormed. Around 100 Central Security Forces evacuated the campus and checked the Ids of students as they exited through the university gates.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Hany Abdel Latif said that security forces arrested 26 people, 14 of whom were not students; he said they “illegitimately” entered the university. Abdel Latif added that all those arrested will face prosecution.
Abdel Latif said at the time of the police security’s arrival inside campus, eight students were inside the administrative building, which was sabotaged by the students who stormed it. Abdel Latif added that security forces “limitedly” used teargas and succeeded in “ending the siege of Al-Abd and other university employees” who were surrounded by students inside the administrative building.
Ahmed Hosny, university vice chairman, called on security forces to remain in campus “for a few days” until “calm is restored”, reported state-run news agency MENA. Hosny reportedly told state television that “such students aim to destroy Al-Azhar University … and other universities”, claiming that such acts are systematic.
Abdel Latif said security forces “will leave campus yet closely follow the situation from outside.”
The Ministry of Interior said in a statement that a group of Muslim Brotherhood students, alongside students of Al-Azhar high institutes, attacked the administrative building, sabotaged university property, and surrounded Al-Abd’s office while firing birdshot and fireworks and brandishing bladed weapons.
Abdallah Abdel Motaleb, spokesman of Al-Azhar University’s student union, meanwhile said that protesting students, who were rallying outside the administrative building, did not begin using violence until people inside the building attacked them. Al-Azhar University’s student union is mainly dominated by Muslim Brotherhood students.
“They started spraying us with water from water cannons and throwing at us flower pots from the windows,” Abdel Motaleb said. “We then heard the sound of birdshots …”
Abdel Motaleb claimed it was only then that protesting students began pelting the administrative building with rocks. He added that some protesters broke into the building and started throwing papers and furniture from the windows.
Ahmed Noor Al-Din, Al-Azhar student who works with the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), said protesters outside the building began chanting “peaceful protest” as soon as the building was stormed in opposition to the incursion. Al-Din added that the protesters had begun trying to break into the administrative building before those inside the building attacked them.
“Student protesters have been attempting to break into the administrative building for almost two weeks,” Noor Al-Din said. “Today is the first time for university employees to violently react to such actions.”
Abdel Motaleb believed the employees’ reaction was meant to escalate matters in order to give Al-Abd an excuse to invite police forces inside university campus. He said he could not confirm that student protesters had surrounded the chairman’s office.
“The student union completely rejects the acts of violence practiced both by the protesters and by the employees,” Abdel Motaleb said. “While the protesters’ violence is justified, the employees’ violence is systematic.”
Al-Azhar’s faculty club called for the return of university guards delegated by the Ministry of Interior to secure universities and “end the lack of security in universities due to Muslim Brotherhood students’ protests”, reported MENA. Club members also called for criminalising protests inside university campuses for the time being to protect universities against “sabotage and rioting”.
Muslim Brotherhood supporters from Al-Azhar University clashed with police forces on Monday during protests in the university and on El-Nasr Road. The demonstrations were held to protest against the death and detainment of fellow students since the dispersal of sit-ins at Rabaa Al-Adaweya and Al-Nahda squares.
AFTE also reported clashes inside the University of Zagazig in Sharqeya on Wednesday. A march by the Students Against the Coup and Ahrar movements was reportedly pelted with rocks by unknown assailants, according to AFTE. Student protesters were calling for the release of detained students and announcing their solidarity with two students suspended from the university’s Faculty of Engineering. The suspended students were accused of attacking university security personnel.
Clashes also reportedly erupted in the University of Mansoura in Daqahleya as Muslim Brotherhood students clashed with pro-army students, leaving a number of students injured, reported Al-Ahram.
Ahmed Nabil, student at Alexandria University, said clashes between Morsi supporters and supporters of general commander of the armed forces Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi have been erupting on a daily basis inside campus. Nabil said military forces blocked certain university gates on Wednesday, amid “skirmishes” inside the university.
Prime Minisiter Hazem El-Beblawi stressed the importance of the return of security and stability to university campuses “under any context” in a press conference on Wednesday, reported MENA. “Even if that means the return of university guards delegated by the Ministry of Interior, what matters is to secure universities,” he reportedly said. El-Beblawi added that university administrations should coordinate with the government in that matter.
Until 2009, the Ministry of Interior was responsible for providing Homeland Security personnel to secure universities. In 2009, the administrative court banned this decision, establishing an “administrative” university security.
In September, the cabinet denied that the Ministry of Justice issued a decision deputising a number of administrative university security personnel to arrest students, describing news of the decision as “unfounded”.