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Students protest 'military rule' as new academic year begins in Egypt

Students chanted protests against the army and police as the new academic year in Egypt got off to a testy beginning
Students protested at campuses across the country in Egypt on Sunday (Twitter/@YoussofSalhen)

Police in Egypt stormed two Cairo university campuses on Sunday after students led protests against “military rule” in the country.

Student leaders said demonstrations took place at universities across the country protesting against the government and calling for the release of students detained for taking part in previous rallies.

The biggest rallies took place at campuses in Cairo, including at the historic al-Azhar University, where students chanted slogans against the army and police.

The protests were described by the Associated Press as organised by supporters of deposed president Mohammed Morsi, although his Muslim Brotherhood group said they involved students “from different backgrounds and political affiliations”.

Security officials told the news agency that at least six people were arrested at al-Azhar, where police fired tear gas and students broke down a security gate.

At Cairo University students chanted for the release of their imprisoned peers under a banner reading “down with military rule” amid waves of teargas fired by advancing police.

A security firm withdrew its staff from the Al-Azhar, Cairo and Ain Shams universities as brief clashes erupted between students and police. Falcon, which provides security services for 12 universities, pulled staff out after “a number of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated students stormed the universities with firearms and sticks” according to the Daily News Egypt.

Security levels have been high on university campuses across the country, in anticipation of the new academic year that began on Saturday. Clashes between protesters and police last year led to some 16 students being killed, after a slew of demonstrations in support of jailed former president Morsi.

Al-Azhar university authorities have asked students to sign pledges not to engage in political activity on campus.

“I promise that I will not participate in any political activities at the university dorms,” read one form according to a report on the Christian Science Monitor by the Cairo-based journalist Louisa Loveluck.

At least 41 students were reportedly detained on Saturday, although protests failed to materialise until Sunday morning.

University professors told MEE the new security provisions were undermining campus independence.

“State authorities are giving too much power to university presidents who, according to a decree issued last June, are now appointed by the Egyptian president,” said Hany el-Hosseiny, a Cairo University professor and a founding member of 9 March Movement for the Independence of Universities.

“This is worrying because it undermines the autonomy of our university heads.”

Police forces had reportedly withdrawn from university campuses late afternoon on Sunday, although it future protests appear inevitable as students expressed their anger at authorities.