Skip to main content

Egypt student protests continue amid violent crackdown

Students determined to continue amid new policies and security measures to quell on-campus protests
Egyptian students chant slogans during anti-government protest at Ain Shams University on 12 October (AA).

Campus protests have broken out in several major cities calling for the release of imprisoned student activists and the removal of new limits on academic freedoms imposed by Egypt’s military-led government.

Since the violent clashes that took place between university students and police during the previous academic year, the authorities have been determined to ensure that demonstrations don’t happen again.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi addressed the students of Cairo University during a special visit on 27 September where he called on all Egyptian students to focus on their academic studies and to avoid involvement in political activism.

As part of a wide-ranging campaign to stifle popular dissent, the Sisi government has recently given itself broad powers to directly appoint university heads, dismiss faculty members without the permission to appeal and force students to sign documents promising “not to participate in political activities”.

Students were met with intensified security measures as they returned to classes at the start of the new academic year last week. A private security company - Falcon established by the Commercial International Bank in 2006 - newly employed to ‘secure’ campuses and ensure calm throughout has been reportedly visible across several Cairo-based university campuses.

Furthermore, students have been asked to go through screen scanners at campus gates while all their belongings are thoroughly searched before they are allowed entry. They have also been reportedly asked to show evidence of their need to be on campus. Without a class schedule in hand showing proof of classes on the day, student have been turned away at entrance gates, sources at Cairo University told MEE.

The stringent security measures have been met with outrage among the students, which were then predictably met with violent retribution from the police and university security administration.

Student voices

Violent clashes between students, security personnel and police forces were reported last week in over 20 Egyptian universities. More than 100 students were arrested while an Alexandria University student has been reportedly hospitalised after live ammunition was fired at him for trying to close the university gates to stop police forces from entering the university campus.

Student activism has long been an incubator for Egypt’s future political activism. More than 800 students were arrested during demonstrations last year, according to local monitoring groups, while 16 others were killed.

Although the violence used to target university students may have encouraged them to subside their activism, student voices reflect increasing determination to continue what they began the previous year.

Youssof Salhen, 22, al-Azhar University, official spokesperson for the Students against the Coup:

“With the start of the new academic term, Students against the Coup along with other revolutionary movements launched a campaign called ‘the students are back’. Its name was inspired by Sheikh Imam’s song.”

Imam Mohammed Ahmed Eissa, more popularly known Sheikh Imam was a famous Egyptian composer and singer known for his political songs in favour of the poor and working class.

“Just before the start of the new academic year, we were surprised to find a huge number of student leaders arrested from their homes. These students who belong to 15 different universities are affiliated with all a variety movements and political parties and don’t represent a single current.”

“This makes us believe even more in the importance of student activism. If our activism wasn’t important, the government would not have used all this violence and these tactics against us.”

“The government doesn’t want us to protest so that Egypt can appear to be stable and make it seem as if everyone has accepted Sisi’s government. But that is not true. The government will not be able to ban protests inside university campuses like it has done on the streets of Egypt.”

“They are trying to challenge us, but we will challenge them instead.”

Hend, 20, Middle Eastern languages student specialising in Farsi, Al-Ahzar University:

“I had to redo my first year because I boycotted the exams last summer. My exams were during the violence that was taking place at al-Azhar university when the girls were being arrested and beaten by the security forces. A group of us decided to boycott exams as the only way to show our dissent against what was happening. I was sitting in class when I heard loud bullets being shot and my eyes began to tear up the gas that spread all over. I decided to leave the exam.”

“The first few demonstrations, there were only 20 or so students, but it continued to grow. Now were are by the hundreds.”

“We will continue to demonstrate because none of our demands have been met. The military coup has not been defeated; there are many students who have been arrested and who have either been suspended from university or are still in prison; we face daily oppression inside our universities. Why should we stop?”

Mona el-Beltagy, 19, University of Alexandria:

“On Tuesday at the faculty of engineering, police forces and armoured vehicles entered the university campus for the first time. They fired live ammunition, pellets and tear and nerve gas across the campus.”

“My classmates that day witnessed police forces enter a lecture theatre and hold the professor at gun point after punching him down to the ground. The slammed a guy’s head on the benches until he started to bleed while a few them harassed any girl they liked.”

“The student Omar Shereif had tried to close the gates to stop them from coming in. I was standing in the balcony of one of the university buildings and could see it all happening from above. Pellets and live ammunition were fired at him; his face and body was quickly covered in blood all over.”

“He is still in hospital. He has definitely lost both his eyes and is suffering a broken skull and a severe brain haemorrhage. We doubt he will live.”

“We know that he is in need of blood but the hospital is not allowing anyone to donate blood to him.”

“That day at least 30-40 students were detained by the police, including 12 girls. They had been trapped inside the university buildings and when the police forces finally let them out, they arrested them. They are now being charged with attempting to murder Omar Shereif!”

International outrage

Several international and local monitoring and human rights groups have called on the Egyptian authorities to release the students who were detained during the university protests.

Statements released by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also pointed to an excessive use of force by police and security forces to crackdown and quell student demonstrations.

“The Egyptian security forces have a bleak record of using arbitrary and abusive force against protesters including students. The lack of accountability for such violations, including unlawful killings, gives them the green light to carry on brutalizing protesters,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. 

Human Rights Watch called on the Egyptian authorities to release more than 110 detained university students, some of whom were detained during the pre-dawn raids on their houses, referenced by Salhen.  

"The arrests were apparently aimed at preventing a revival of campus protests that have erupted repeatedly since the overthrow of the former president, Mohamed Morsy, in July 2013," said HRW in a statement released on Tuesday. "The arrests and subsequent activities appear to be solely directed at the students' peaceful exercise of the right to free assembly."

The Cairo-based NGO, Egypt's Democracy Index of the International Development Centre (IDC), warned in a report, released Tuesday of a “student intifada” if the Egyptian government continues their current policy of cracking down on dissent in university campuses. 

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.