Sharp rise in university student protests – Report

Universities in Egypt have witnessed a remarkable upsurge in student protests since the start of the academic year in September, in response to educational issues and in support of the country’s first elected civilian president – former professor Mohamed Morsi – who was ousted by the military last July.

Just last week, dozens of students protesting against Egypt’s interim authorities were injured in clashes with the police at campuses in Cairo and across the country. And 13 students belonging to Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood were suspended from Al-Azhar University – the renowned seat of Sunni Muslim learning – for involvement in protests.

Details about numbers, motives and places of student protests were outlined in a Democracy Index report published last weekend by The Economist Intelligence Unit, and reported by the Middle East Monitor.

There were an extraordinary 1,122 student protests carried out at universities and schools in the three months from September, the start of the academic year in Egypt.

And protests have been escalating.

While there were 378 protests during October, the number escalated by 26% to 511 protests staged during November – on average, 17 protests a day.

According to students, there is a great deal to protest about. A November report published by student unions in Egypt claimed that there had been 213 students killed, 530 detained and about 2,000 injured since the 3 July military take-over.

The Economist Intelligence Unit report indicated that political and educational demands were behind most of the student protests.

During November, 88% of student demands were political and the remainder over education issues including admissions, procedures involved in transferring between universities and student accommodation fees.

The main political demand last month was for the release of university professors who had been arrested during protests held in support of Mohamed Morsi, who became the first university professor to rule a country in the Arab world after winning 51.7% of votes in a run-off election in 2012.

In all, 106 professors and lecturers from various backgrounds have been arrested and detained in Egypt since the 3 July 2013 military take-over, most of them for speaking out against the current regime, according to a recent report from the Students Against the Coup movement.

A list of the detained academics has been published by Egyptian activists through social media.

It does not include the names of academics who have been killed, or those dismissed from universities.

According to the Al-Midan Student Group, a list of the names of students who have recently been detained is to be presented to the prosecutor general, Daily News Egypt reported.

Students are currently demanding the release of all arrested students, the retreat of security forces from campuses, scrapping of a cabinet decision allowing security forces onto campuses with the approval of university presidents, and fact-finding committees – in which students should participate – to investigate violations that have taken place at universities.

The students are also demanding the resignations of the ministers of higher education and of the interior.

The Economist Intelligence Unit report said Al-Azhar University had had the most protests, with 101 staged in November. The University of Cairo was second on the list of 24 academic institutions, with 52 protests, followed by Alexandria University with 46 and Helwan University with 34 protests.

Usually, demonstrations began peacefully but then erupted into violence. In November, two students had been killed and several others injured, and police vehicles had been burned. In total there had been 67 clashes between students and police.

There were three verdicts handed down against students during November, including 12 Al-Azhar students who received 17-year sentences for breaking into the university and setting fire to the library.

There were also prison sentences against 14 female students from Alexandria on 27 November and an 18-month verdict against 38 Al-Azhar students for assaulting policemen.

Last Wednesday, Minister of Higher Education and Deputy Prime Minister Hossam Eissa “downplayed the effect of protests” on education at universities, saying that only five had been experiencing protests, Daily News Egypt reported.

During a press conference he said the Muslim Brotherhood had “failed to implement” its goal of halting the educational process. The only universities that had experienced “noteworthy” protests were Cairo, Mansoura, Zagazig, Assiut University and Ain Shams.

“Any other protests are irrelevant,” Daily News Egypt quoted the minister as saying. “Exams will be fully secured and will not be affected in any university around Egypt even if there were protesting.”

* Photo credit: iStock.