Islamic seminary tightens dorm curbs amid opposition

Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, a stronghold of Islamists, has toughened procedures for staying in state-subsidised dormitories in a move the Islamic seminary’s administration says is targeting “troublemakers” among students.

In the run-up to the new academic year, due to begin in late September, the administration of the state-run university has asked students wishing to live in its dormitories to undergo a drugs test and attach a police record to their applications.

Fury among students

The move has drawn condemnation from students.

“These requirements make Al-Azhar students look like suspects,” said Aisha Orabi, a student in the university’s science school.

“The situation is particularly bad for female students because these measures harm their social image. How would I look when I go to a local hospital and ask to undergo a test to prove whether I take drugs or not?” said Orabi, a female student.

“Either these requirements should be applied by all universities in the country or [be] abolished.”

Other students have agreed.

“My father told me not to apply for residence at the dorm after he learnt about the new requirements,” said an Al-Azhar woman student, who gave her first name only as Amal. “My family is living in a conservative community, which regards such tests with suspicion.”

‘Preventive measures’

The president of Al-Azhar University, Abdul Hai Azab, has advocated the procedures.

“These are preventive steps aimed at providing an appropriate atmosphere for studies and protecting good students from bad students,” he said. “These measures come in reaction to the subversion perpetrated by some students in the last two years.”

Al-Azhar has been rocked by violent protests since the military’s 2013 overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. The university’s authorities have blamed the unrest on pro-Muslim Brotherhood students. Most of the violence took place at dorms.

Hundreds of Al-Azhar students have been detained and put on trial on charges of inciting and participating in violence and subversion.

Last year, the Al-Azhar administration partially closed the university’s dorms, citing heavy damage done to them during anti-government protests.

“Now that the dorms have been renovated, I would like to allow the largest possible number of students to stay at them,” Azab said.

“Residence at the dorm is an advantage, which should be made available only to the student who is committed to the university’s regulations. The state offers annually around EGP50 million (US$6.4 million) to subsidise services at Al-Azhar dorms,” he told Egypt’s private Dream TV.

He added that submitting a police record is already a requirement for job applicants in Egypt. “So what is all this fuss about? The student who knows that he is a criminal should not apply to stay in the dorm. If he has a clean record, he has nothing to fear.”

Observers say that criminal records will enable Al-Azhar authorities to identify trouble-making students and deny them access to dorms, where food and accommodation services are offered at low fees.

The university’s president also said that political activities were banned on campus and in dorms. “Al-Azhar students should follow three affiliations only: God, the nation and Al-Azhar. No other affiliation will be allowed.”

Last year, political activism at Egyptian universities was heavily restricted, a move mainly aimed at pro-Muslim Brotherhood students.

The Islamist group is designated as a terrorist organisation in Egypt, with thousands of its followers detained in tough security clampdowns.