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 Mohammed Morsi.
Morsi'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
"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."
In 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
The university is a short walk from Rabaa al-Adawiya square,
which Morsi'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 Morsi'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
Since universities opened in September, students have held
regular protests in campuses across the country, sometimes clashing with
classmates who oppose Morsi.
On Sunday, hundreds of students protesting in Cairo
University chanted "Morsi 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
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.
"What the [Muslim] Brotherhood are doing in
universities is terrorism. They provoke us into clashes then use violence
against us" said one student at Cairo University, Sharif Harb.
The Supreme Council of Universities, which regulates state
universities, issued guidelines banning students from protesting near
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.
History of campus action
Universities have been a haven for activists since a court
decision banned guards belonging to the interior ministry from campuses in
Students played a leading role in overthrowing veteran
strongman Hosni Mubarak in early 2011, and in mobilising protests that helped
oust Morsi 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 Morsi, 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
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 6 October, 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.
Almost 60 people were killed in clashes with police around
the country, most of them in Cairo.
The government has cited such violence to justify a state of
emergency and a restrictive draft law regulating protests.
"The danger of what is happening in universities now is
that maybe all student rights will be repressed, under the guise of confronting
the Muslim Brotherhood," said American University in Cairo professor Ahmed
Abd Rabou, blaming the Islamists' "violent approach".