Documenting university protests: September – March
YOUM7/Mostafa Darwish

CAIRO: Students resumed classes on Sunday, after the second semester had been postponed several times due to protests and instability.

Over a six-month period, 176 students were killed and another 1,347 were detained, in more than 24 universities across Egypt, according to statistics released by the Free Students Monitor, an Egyptian NGO, on March 7.

The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) prepared a timeline that was published on their website on March 9. The report documents a number of events related to student protests in universities during the first semester; summarizing the period from September 2013 to January 2014.

The timeline covers the series of events since the earliest student protests in Alexandria University, and proceeds to show the chronological escalation of violence.

On Sep. 8, students began demonstrating in Alexandria University to protest procedural issues and to demand their right to transfer their documents from one college to another. The students cut off the main Corniche Road and were confronted by police forces, AFTE reported.

Students’ demands were limited to problems within their universities. Protesting students would often face punishments such as being referred to disciplinary councils, mainly for insulting professors. But by mid-September their protests took a political turn, as they started chanting against the government.

At around the same time groups affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood called for regular “anti-coup” demonstrations to be organized on a weekly basis.

“Public response and participation in the protests on Sep.13 reflects the people’s determination to carry out their peaceful struggle against the coup leaders of July 3,” said a press statement by the National Alliance Supporting Legitimacy on Sep. 14.

Brotherhood-organized demonstrations also faced increasing opposition from military supporters and anti-Brotherhood protestors, who often chanted for the army and police forces, especially after security forces were targeted by attacks following the ouster of Mohamed Morsi from power.

During that time, the Students Against the Coup Movement began directing their protests against security forces, the army, and the government. Accusations and punishment targeting protesting students also transformed, with several students being arrested on charges of “inciting chaos and obstructing the educational process.”

Administrative security personnel inside universities were tasked with handling the situation; police did not intervene inside universities, but their forces could arrest students outside of university campuses.

Influenced by what was happening in streets, student protests escalated in October – when clashes between pro- and anti-government students erupted – which pushed administrative university security to announce their failure to contain protests. Afterwards, in Mansoura University, police fired tear gas on students inside the university campus.

By the middle of October, protests moved out of university campuses and directly clashed with police forces. The forces allegedly used tear gas and birdshot to disperse protesters, and even real shotguns were heard to scare off students.

Protestors also started being arrested on different charges, as claims of university staff being assaulted increased. On Oct. 30, a video showed students protesting in Al-Azhar University throwing equipment, chairs, and papers towards the windows of what appeared to be staff rooms.

On Dec. 24, eight Zagazig students were referred to disciplinary council after breaking into the office of the dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy; an incident which allegedly gave him a heart attack.

On Dec. 24 students at Al-Azhar University also gathered in front of the main administrative building and university staff used water hoses to try and disperse protesters. Osama al-Abd, president of Al-Azhar University, requested police forces to intervene and disperse the protests.

Those incidents recurred across universities in different governorates. Protests in the universities of Mansoura, Zagazig, and Suez Canal started to take a chaotic turn, with increased violence by students and police.

By November, clashes continued to increase, as well as arrests and police reports against students, in addition to injuries. To face the police, students threw stones, Molotov cocktails, and fireworks.

On Nov.18, a court controversially sentenced 12 Al-Azhar students to 17 years in prison.

Furthermore, Al-Azhar University Council decided to suspend 205 students for being “affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood and partaking in violent incidents,” according to statement by Ahmed Hosni, vice-president of the university, on Nov.28.

At least 150 students were suspended from Cairo University for being involved in “violent” protests, Gaber Nassar, president of the university, declared to the press on Feb. 19.

It was also in November that students died during clashes. On the Nov. 20, news outlets reported the death of a student and the injury of ten others when police forces stormed Al-Azhar University. On Nov. 28, another student died as a result of gunshots to the back and chest in Cairo University. On the first day of exams towards the end of December, one student died and another dozen were injured from birdshots.

On Dec.25, the Cabinet declared the Muslim Brotherhood “a terrorist group;” freezing its assets and condemning any person affiliated to or supportive of the organization; amid a severe crackdown by security forces on protesters, as part of a military campaign launched earlier in July to “fight terrorism.”

Student protests were faced with even more violence, especially when they tried to take their demonstrations to critical locations such as the Ministry of Defense, the Nahda Square; where the MB had conducted a months-long sit-in t protest Morsi’s ouster; and in Nasr City.

Raising MB slogans or symbols became a crime for which students could be arrested and tried. Many students were suspended on charges of participating in MB protests, inciting chaos and disrupting order in universities.

Before the second semester was to begin, universities had signed a protocol with the Ministry of Interior, allowing police forces to be present around universities and interfere in case of violence.

A look back on the incidents of the first semester may pave the way for speculations on the second term, especially amid calls, by student and human rights organizations, on authorities to release detained students.

On March 9, the first day of the second semester, Ain Shams University students protested against the presence of security guards on campus and demanded the release of their colleagues.

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