Al-Azhar University
Egyptian student supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood gather during clashes with police at the Cairo campus of Al-Azhar University December 28, 2013. Photo by Reuters
Text size
related tags

Riot police moved into Egypt’s main Islamic university on Saturday, firing tear gas and breaking up a strike by students that threatened to disrupt midterms. One student was killed in the melee, an administration building was torched and students fled from exam rooms.

Police say they entered eastern Cairo’s Al-Azhar campus, the site of frequent clashes in recent weeks, and deployed around other Egyptian universities to prevent supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi from intimidating other students trying to take the tests.

Pro-Morsi activists have called for an exam boycott but deny government claims that they threatened anyone.

Students at al-Azhar, a stronghold of Morsi supporters, have been protesting for weeks against his ouster and a subsequent state crackdown, which this week saw his Muslim Brotherhood group declared a terrorist organization. The Brotherhood dismisses the label and has vowed to keep up its protests against Egypt-military backed authorities.

University professors and security officials accused protesting students yesterday of blocking entrances to classes and harassing students as they made their way into the campus.

A statement from the Interior Ministry, in charge of the police, said students stormed several buildings on campus to “terrorize students and faculty.” It said some fired shotguns into the air and smashed furniture.

The ministry statement said that the attack prompted the police to move in to disperse the crowd, leading the students to setting the Faculty of Commerce on fire.

Aya Fathy, a student spokeswoman, disputed the officials claim, saying the students were protesting peacefully. She said police moved in to break up protesters outside the faculty building, firing indiscriminately at them, and killing student Khaled el-Haddad.

She accused the police of setting the building on fire to blame the students. She said the police force was chasing students on campus.

Footage from local TV stations and social media websites showed the campus as a battleground. Flames rose from the three-story building, with rooms inside badly torched. Pitched battles pitting police against rock-throwing students, some armed with what appeared to be homemade guns or projectile launchers, left the campus deserted, strewn with rocks and debris.

Other images showed masked protesters on roofs of university buildings lobbing rocks at security, and students jumping out of windows to escape the violence.

Exams were postponed at the Faculty of Commerce and other schools on campus. The university dean said the delay will only be for hours. Osama el-Abd, the dean, told Egypt’s state news agency that alternative classrooms will be provided for the students to carry out the exams, and those scheduled today. He said investigation will be launched to determine the students behind yesterday’s violence.

The Interior Ministry didn’t mention el-Haddad’s death in its statement. But a security official confirmed he was killed and said 14 others were injured.