Egypt clamps down on campuses over new unrest fears

Egypt clamps down on campuses over new unrest fears
Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and toppled Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi hold a banner against his ouster as they march towards Cairo University to demand his reinstatement in Cairo on July 19, 2013.

CAIRO - As the new academic term began in Egypt, riot police were standing guard at Cairo's universities to quash any repeat of Islamist-led protests that turned campuses nationwide into battlefields.

The authorities have tightened security at 12 leading universities across the country - the last bastions of protests backing ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi after a nationwide government crackdown crushed his supporters, leaving hundreds dead and thousands jailed.

About 16 students were killed in the academic year that ended in April, as pro-Morsi students fought pitched battles with security forces after the Islamist was ousted in July 2013 by then-army chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Universities echoed with slogans like "Sisi is a killer!" as pro-Morsi students threw rocks at tear-gas-firing policemen.

Today, the newly painted buildings of the prestigious Sunni Al-Azhar University and Cairo University are surrounded by tall metal fences, with private security guards checking students' identities as they pass through metal detectors.

The new security measures ban all partisan activities on campuses and university officials are allowed to expel disruptive students.

Several students AFP approached at Al-Azhar refused to comment, while some at Cairo University offered only brief remarks - clearly reflecting the tension on the two campuses.

"Last year was a mess, with tear gas being fired inside the university. But now there are much fewer protests and it's much safer," said Noha Ezz al-Arab, a third-year English literature student, as she waited to pass through a metal detector at the gate of Cairo University.

Fear for freedoms

"Last year we couldn't sit for a minute. We were always expecting something," a security guard at Al-Azhar told AFP, as police vehicles with wailing sirens circled the university and masked police carrying batons and tear gas grenade guns stood inside the campus itself.

Student leaders fear the new security measures could affect their overall campus activism.

"We hope the new regulations will not limit freedoms and non-partisan political activities on campuses," said Ahmed Khalaf, a member of the Cairo University Student Union.

Students also complained that the new restrictions are curbing their movement on campuses.

"They stopped me from entering, saying that engineering students are not allowed" inside Cairo University's main campus, said Hossam Khalid, whose faculty is located outside the main university grounds.

"They probably think we are terrorists."

There has already been some minor unrest.

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