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Egypt's military target universities and turn on student protestors

Last night medical student Abdel Ghany Hamouda died from birdshot wounds to the head after Egyptian police stormed Al-Azhar University in Cairo, one of the top religious institutions in Sunni Islam. It was the military's latest warning that speaking out about their heavy handed rule, or indeed demanding the return of democracy, will not be tolerated in any corner of the country.

Whilst MENA News Agency reported that protestors had set fire to trees inside the campus and so security forces had to be called in to control the demonstrations, students told Nile TV that they had ignited the trees to counteract the suffocating tear gas launched by police. Even though an end to police brutality was one of the demands of the January 25 revolution, since then reports of violence, kidnappings and the targeting of prominent activists have not subsided.

Over recent months universities in Egypt have become a stronghold for anti-coup protests which regularly erupt in violence when security forces enter to break them up. On Saturday they stormed Zagazig University with batons, firing more teargas at demonstrators who were demanding the release of fellow students arrested last week.

The day Hamouda died, Al Azhar University banned protests on campus and suspended the Student Union's activities, requesting that the Interior Ministry follow suit and police guard the campus. This came after a proposal passed by the Supreme Council of Universities in September granted university security guards powers of arrest.

Wednesday's protests were in response to an incredibly severe ruling last week which saw 12 Azhar students be sentenced to 17 years in prison for their role in 'riots' on campus back in October. They have been arrested and referred to court on charges including thuggery, inciting riots and possessing guns and ammunitions. Demonstrators are demanding their release.

Students have time and time again called for Al Azhar Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb and university president Osama Al Abed to be kicked out. He publicly supported the overthrow of Morsi by General Al-Sissi back in July. It was Al Abed who invited security forces into the university to retain order.

Targeting students is not a new tactic in Egypt. Back in 1993, when Mubarak started his third term in office, the union law was passed. It froze the boards of unions that the Brotherhood were in charge of, putting them instead under a selected, administrative board. Islamic candidates were also prevented from taking part in student elections.

Mubarak justified this by upholding it was a necessary response to the increase in terrorist activities in the 1990s.

Given the fact that universities are supposed to encourage debate, free expression and independent thinking, it is ironic that protests on their grounds are being stifled by Egypt's security outfit. In all the years Egypt's authorities have been suppressing politically active students, their security solutions have not worked. But it seems they have no other way of 'restoring democracy.'

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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