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University security divides Egypt’s Student Union

The group will protest at other universities rather than focusing on Al-Azhar, says SAC spokesman

Ain Shams Student Union president Mohamed Saleh Matar, center, flanked by the student union presidents of Benha and Menufiya universities during a press conference ON Sunday (Photo by Ali Omar/DNE)
Ain Shams Student Union president Mohamed Saleh Matar, center, flanked by the student union presidents of Benha and Menufiya universities during a press conference ON Sunday
(Photo by Ali Omar/DNE)

Ain Shams Student Union hosted a press conference Sunday denouncing the Cairo Urgent Matters Court’s 24 February decision to order the return of Ministry of Interior security personnel to secure university campuses.

Student union leaders from a number of universities, including  Ain Shams and Menufiya Universities, members of Egypt’s Students Union (ESU), and representatives from the student offices of the Al-Dostour, Free Egyptians, and Misr Al-Qawia (Strong Egypt) political parties signed a statement threatening “peaceful escalations” if the court’s decision is applied.

The escalations would involve peaceful protests and awareness campaigns against the presence of security personnel affiliated to the Ministry of Interior, according to the statement. The students would not tolerate that the Interior Ministry control Egyptian universities like it did before the 2011 revolution.

Mohamed Hassan, head of Benha University’s student union, said the signing students distance themselves from the meeting that took place between the Minister of Interior and other members of the student unions, adding that ESU president Mohamed Badran has been acting independently, without consulting the majority of ESU members.

Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim has assured students that the ministry will “resort to intervention” at universities only to protect students and the educational process, state-run Al-Ahram reported on Sunday.

Ibrahim acknowledge the important role student leaders played in “promoting and advancing student culture and paths to political participation,” as well as “the need to support all citizens, especially the youth of the security establishment in fighting the elements of extremism and terrorism.”

 Although the ministry will not respond to every disturbance, it “will not allow any attempts to use violence or chaos or encroachment on installations” during the coming semester, Ibrahim said.

Students Against the Coup denounced the decisions, said spokesman Youssof Salhen, adding that the group would find difficulty in protesting in the second term because of security preparations. The separation of Al-Azhar University dorms from the campus will also hinder protests there, he added.

“It will be difficult to protest in large numbers as we did during the first term,” Salhen said. “The presence of security personnel on campus could prevent protests before they even start.”

“This will force us to protest at other universities, like Cairo University, where the group organised its first protest on Sunday,” Salhen said.

Anticipation of the security situation at Egypt’s universities is building as the school year is scheduled to resume next Saturday.

The Supreme Council of Universities and the interior ministry signed a protocol regarding the securing of university campuses. The agreement stipulated that security forces be present outside campuses, and would only interfere on campuses after the permission of the universities chairmen, following the cabinet decision issued in November 2013.

Numerous clashes have taken place between students supporting ousted president Mohamed Morsi and security forces. Egypt’s student death toll reached four in 2013 after violence erupted at several university campuses. The deaths occurred in November and December 2013 at Cairo University and Al-Azhar University.

On 23 January, a student was killed on the Alexandria University campus after a student protest escalated. According to the latest statistics from the Student Observatory of the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression in December, 611 students were arrested university clashes, while the total number of detained students from political events still unidentifiable.

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