Student violence rocks second biggest university

Fighting erupted last week among rival students at Ain Shams University, Egypt's second biggest public institution, prompting the administration to suspend classes indefinitely. Dozens of students were injured and campus facilities were damaged.

It is the latest in a series of disturbances at the country’s academic institutions.

Violence and mayhem followed a mass protest held by students at the Cairo-based university to denounce lack of security on campus, according to witnesses.

"The protest was passing in front of the faculty of law when the protesters were suddenly attacked by thugs brought in by rival students," said Mohamed Fathi, an arts student.

"The attack was followed by violent clashes in which stones, clubs and sharp tools were used with no intervention from the university security personnel," he added.

The incident prompted 10 members of the student union in the faculty of arts to quit in protest against what they called "absence of security".

"The university is no longer a suitable place for education due to growing security threats and acts of thuggery," said Karim Belal, head of the Ain Shams student union.

Admitting lack of security, the Ain Shams President Hussein Eissa said that penalties handed down to misbehaving students were not succeeding as a deterrent. “We do not have professional security guards," he told the private TV station MBC Misr.

Eissa added that his administration would bolster security with more guards and that surveillance cameras and metal detectors would be installed across the campus.

In 2010, an Egyptian court ordered the removal of police guards from the nation's universities after complaints that the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of security agencies in Egypt, had been meddling in academic institutions’ affairs.

However, security violations have hit most public and private universities since a popular revolt deposed former president Hosni Mubarak more than two years ago.

The board of Ain Shams University held a crisis meeting to discuss the campus unrest. The board said students suspected of inciting the violence were being questioned.

"The university administration is studying the possibility of hiring a private security firm to keep order on the campus," said the board in a statement.

Minister of Higher Education Mustafa Mossad visited Ain Shams last week, and announced that he had asked the Interior Ministry to assist in training security personnel at universities.

Radwa Ashour, a professor in the faculty of arts, criticised the university administration for failing to take "firm steps" against what she called the continued hiring of thugs, who were allegedly used by security agencies in the Mubarak era to intimidate lecturers and students.

"The university administration's talk about the need for an efficient security company and the installation of metal detection gates remains inadequate," said Ashour. "What is required first is to stop such thugs from entering the university and to expose who stands behind them."

The unrest at Ain Shams came days after liberal and Islamist students clashed at the provincial Mansura University, after liberal students had reportedly encircled the administration building to protest against the allegedly slow prosecution of a lecturer accused of knocking down and killing a student with a car on campus.