Thursday, October 30, 2014
Egypt's El-Sisi cracks down on university students
Riot police in actionm at the Azhar university in Cairo (March 2014)
A good story by Reuters press agency:
Hundreds of police surround its walls, patrolling in armoured vehicles with sirens blaring, while muscle-bound security guards man metal detectors, searching all who enter.
But this is not a military barracks or police station, it is Cairo University, where the government has tightened security as it seeks to avert another year of unrest on university campuses, among the last bastions of protest and dissent in Egypt.
The government has cracked down on critics since July 2013, when then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi overthrew Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president.Morsi's party, the Muslim Brotherhood, was banned, thousands of its supporters were locked up and hundreds were killed when police broke up two protest camps last year. The net has since widened to include secular activists who played a leading role in the 2011 uprising that toppled long-serving autocrat Hosni Mubarak and ignited hopes for deeper change.
As the noose tightened around activists and the government banned unlicensed demonstrations, Egypt's state universities emerged as one of the few remaining spaces to express dissent.
Riot police sorming anothert Azhar universuiety, the one in Assiut (June 2014)
Scores of students were killed last year in clashes with police and hundreds more were detained, leading the government to delay the start of the new academic year to mid-October while it put security procedures in place.
Sisi, now president, has warned that violence at universities would no longer be tolerated. After the long summer hiatus, increased security has come as a relief for many students who had found themselves traversing battlegrounds on their way to class.
But opponents accuse the government of trying to stamp out the last flickers of political expression. They criticise the moves as an attempt to return campuses to the grip of the security services, which ruled by fear under Mubarak.
"(The government) is eliminating politics inside the university and outside it," said Khaled Reda, a student leader at Zagazig University in the Nile Delta. "The situation inside the university will be even more difficult than it is outside."
Universities have banned partisan activity on campus, limiting extra-curricular pursuits to sports or culture.
A decree issued in June means appointments to positions including principal or faculty head must be approved by the president himself, an apparent effort to keep politically active academics from attaining senior positions.
Regulations introduced in September at the thousand-year-old Al Azhar University, among the world's most venerable centres of Islamic learning, give the administration new powers to sack or expel any faculty member or student involved in activities that damage university property, disrupt the learning process or incite violence.
The cabinet has approved similar rules for all universities. Sisi has yet to sign the measures into law, but the plans have drawn criticism from students and professors active across the political spectrum who say they are too vague and leave the door open for principals to remove anyone they find too outspoken.