Islamic seminary’s violence-hit dorms reopen amid curbs

Al Azhar University – Egypt’s Islamic seminary and the Muslim world’s most prestigious seat of learning – has reopened its main student dormitories, closed for around two years due to violence blamed on Islamist students.

This week students started residing in the dorms located in the eastern Cairo quarter of Nasr City, after they had undergone a drug test and provided police records to the university’s administration – measures meant to identify troublemakers among them.

In 2013, the Al Azhar campus and student residences were rocked by violent protests against the military's overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. The violence and ensuing damage later prompted closure of the dorms.

The university authorities blamed the unrest on pro-Muslim Brotherhood students. Hundreds of Al Azhar students have since been detained and handed down jail sentences on charges of inciting and participating in violence and subversion.

Dorms reopen

Late last month women students at Al Azhar University, where gender mixing is banned, were allowed to reside in the female-only section of the Cairo dorms.

Lectures at the seminary, which has several branches across predominantly Muslim Egypt, began last month.

The administration has sternly warned students against violating behaviour rules.

“The management has taken all the necessary measures in order to complete the housing of students in the dormitories by the end of next week,” said Ahmed Abd Rabu, an advisor to the university’s president.

He urged students to observe rules that ban protests and rioting in halls of residence. “Any student violating these instructions will be expelled for good from residing in the dormitories,” Abd Rabu added.

Public universities in Egypt offer accommodation and food to students in halls of residence at state-subsidised prices. Successful applicants are usually students who are far away from their hometowns.

Students delighted

“I can’t find words to describe my happiness that at last I’ll reside in the dorm,” said Mahmoud Salah, a third-year student at Al Azhar University’s school of languages and simultaneous interpretation.

“For the past two academic years, I suffered a lot in order to find a suitable place to stay in Cairo,” added Salah, a native of the Nile Delta province of Mansura.

He explained that he had moved among several places that he shared with others. “Landlords often took advantage of our inability to stay in the dorm and occasionally increased rents,” Salah said.

“This nightmare is over now that I’ll stay in the dorm. The university and the dorm are places for education and accommodation, not for protests.”

Agreeing, medical student Mustafa Darwish said his joy was two-fold.

“First, because I have been accepted to reside in the dorm. Second, because with the tight measures applied to residents, there is no room for trouble-making students,” said Darwish, a native of South Egypt. “Now we can concentrate on our studies.”

Since Morsi's toppling, Egypt’s authorities have tightened curbs on admitting applicants into the dorms of state-run universities, with the aim of excluding students suspected of links to the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Several universities now oblige applicants to submit findings of a drug test and a police record before they get a place in a student residence. Political activism at universities is also heavily restricted.