Sunday, February 22, 2009

Student protest demands end to security presence on campus

Daily News Egypt
By Sarah Carr

February 22, 2009

CAIRO: Students renewed their demands for free education and an end to the presence of Interior Ministry security forces on university campuses Saturday, during a demonstration at Cairo University.

“Security bodies ban any and all political, cultural and intellectual activity inside universities. They want to create a generation of young people incapable of saying anything except ‘yes’ to Mubarak Senior and Junior,” Mostafa Shawky, a member of the Haqqy (My Right) Socialist student movement said during the protest.

Cairo University student and Haqqy member Ashraf Omar said that the removal of Interior Ministry police from campuses is students’ main priority.

“We want to link student issues with wider issues in Egyptian society.

Students form part of a society and must take part in its political life. So our most pressing demand is the removal of Interior Ministry security forces from campuses so that we can increase student activity,” Omar said.

He linked the Egyptian government’s domestic policy with its position on regional issues.

“The regime which contains us by the ‘remote control’ of its security bodies is the same regime which is placing Palestine under siege,” Omar said.

Around 100 students of diverse political leanings including the Islamic Labor Party, the April 6 Youth movement, Nasserists and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) gathered at noon to take part in the protest.

The majority of protestors however were drawn from the Haqqy movement, which organized the protest.

Students declared Feb. 21 “international student day.”

The date coincides with the anniversary of the Feb. 21, 1946 uprising when thousands of Egyptians — including students who marched across Cairo’s Abbas Bridge — demonstrated against British occupation.

Shawqy placed emphasis on the role played by students in protest action.

“In 1977 students took to the streets because of rising food prices. During the 1989 and 2000 Intifadas students shook Egypt, while the 2003 protests against the war on Iraq were triggered by students,” Shawqy told protestors.

He went on to criticize the executive bylaw which implements the 1979 Universities Law.

Students and rights groups criticize the amendments as imposing even more restrictions on the already narrow scope of student activity on university campuses.

Earlier this month the Mansoura Administrative Court ruled the executive bylaw unconstitutional. That decision will now be reviewed by the Supreme Constitutional Court.

During the demonstration students handed out flyers listing their demands. In addition to the annulment of the executive by-law they called for the removal of Interior Ministry security bodies from university campuses, free education, the right of all students to a place in university halls of residence and an end to students being denied this right because of their political activity.

Students held up symbolic “red cards” and chanted “Freedom, where are you? State security is standing between us” while they marched through campus.

They also denounced Egypt’s role in the siege on the Gaza Strip and called for the release of Ahmed El-Kordy, a detained student member of the Islamic Labor party.

At roughly 1 pm the demonstration arrived at the university’s main entrance where protestors scaled the locked gate and attempted to force it open.

Security bodies eventually allowed protestors to leave the university and enter the area immediately outside it — which had been entirely encircled by rows of hundreds of riot police.

Another, smaller, demonstration had congregated in this area made up predominantly of Brotherhood members with some members of the Kefaya movement for change.

The two groups — MB and non-MB — did not initially come together, instead chanting separate slogans in a repetition of scenes witnessed during January protests against the Israeli invasion of Gaza when MB members refused to chant slogans critical of Egypt’s domestic policy.

Omar attributed the division between the two demonstrations to “organizational shortcomings” adding that “we [Socialist groups] try on all occasions to link and work with political movements of all ideological denominations.”

MB members did however eventually join the non-MB group which marched back inside the university campus.

One commentator, a Brotherhood member who preferred to remain anonymous, said that MB participation in the demonstration was significant.

“For the first time the Muslim Brotherhood has taken part in a protest where demonstrators were holding up pictures of Gamal Abdel Nasser — who imprisoned and killed MB members — and called for the removal of [President] Hosni Mubarak and his government,” the commentator said.

“This was previously a red line for the MB — it’s the first time it happens.”

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