Egypt’s public universities are bracing for the new academic semester starting Saturday as Islamist anti-government groups call for “intense revolutionary movement” on campus.
The National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL), that deems former president Mohamed Morsi’s ouster a “coup,” announced a new round of protests — dubbed “Students are the Knights of the Revolution” — while public universities are setting to work to prevent another tumultuous year.
“The university campus is a field of the flaming revolutionary fields. Students are the knights of your revolution … Let us launch a strong and intense revolutionary movement starting Friday to protect the gains of the students’ struggle over the past year,” NASL said in a statement.
Police have arrested several students in different governorates nationwide over the past few days, including 14 of the “Students Against the Coup” movement, according to Al-Ahram Arabic news website.
Egyptian campuses saw a chaotic 2013-2014 academic year with recurrent protests and clashes following the popular military-led ouster of Morsi in July 2013.
At least 14 students were killed in the violence and hundreds jailed for illegal protesting or participating in violence. Hundreds of other students have been suspended or expelled from their universities.
Egypt passed a protest law in November 2013 stipulating that the interior ministry must be notified in advance of a protest’s location, time, cause, and the names of its participants, in addition to their full contact information. The law also gives the ministry power to prohibit any protest or change its time and location.
Hundreds have been arrested under the law’s provisions. Many activists and political groups that deem the law too restrictive have called for its amendment, most notably in a large hunger strike campaign last month.
Meanwhile, Egyptian universities have undertaken several measures ahead of the start of the 2014-2015 academic year in an effort to curb another possible wave of anger on campuses.
While schools opened their doors for pupils on 20 September, universities were delayed to 11 October.
The Ministry of Higher Education has signed a deal with a private security company to guard at least nine public universities.
The presence of Egyptian police on campus often caused tensions at student protests opposing the current government. Armed police stormed campuses on several occasions amid clashes. The government says security forces had act as part of the government’s “anti-terrorism” measures.
However, this year Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab that no police would be stationed inside universities.
Private security companies have now taken charge of at least nine campuses, including Al-Azhar and Cairo universities that witnessed some of the most intense clashes last year.
Media reports say that personnel of these companies — expected to guard campuses round the clock — are not armed with live bullets. The companies have installed electronic gates on some campuses and are helping universities create smart identification cards for students and staff.
The guards also include females for women students.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s cabinet has also amended a law allowing university presidents to expel faculty members who “commit crimes that disturb the educational process.” It also banned faculty members from “participating in, inciting or facilitating protests that would halt the educational process.”
Cairo University President Gaber Nassar has banned politically-affiliated groups on campus and has already frozen the activities of the student groups of the Constitution Party, the Strong Egypt Party and the Salafist Nour Party on campus.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the lead group of NASL and from which Morsi hails, has been deemed a terrorist organisation and banned by the government, while its political wing — the Freedom and Justice Party — was dissolved.
In Al-Azhar University dorms, also the site of bloody clashes last year, students now have to sign a form in which they commit to not participating in “any political activities at the university dorms.”
“In case I violate any of these promises, I take responsibility for any action the dorms’ administration will take against me,” they also signed.
On the other hand, Egypt’s prosecutor-general released 116 students on 17 September who were detained since the last academic semester for “illegal protest.”
However, there are no official figures made public for how many more remain in jail.