Update: MOI blames Al-Azhar students for inciting violence

Clashes escalated between Al-Azhar University students and security forces outside the campus gates early Monday evening. Student union representative Abdallah Abdel Moteleb told Mada Masr reported that tear gas, pellets and live ammunition were being fired at protesting students both inside and outside the campus.

The number of injured continues to rise, and plainclothes policemen are currently carrying out arrests inside the university, Abdel Moteleb said.

Pictures posted by eye-witnesses on social media show students who have sustained injuries and were suffering from the effects of tear gas. 

A group called Students against the Coup requested medical help for the injured students on their Facebook page.

The Ministry of Interior issued a statement claiming that students provoked the violence, and police forces only fired tear gas in retaliation.

The statement alleged that 2,500 Al-Azhar students blocked traffic on Nasr Road and began throwing stones at passersby, cars attempting to go through the protest and at police forces.

When the demonstrators failed to respond to verbal warnings, police forces fired tear gas to disperse them, and arrested two.

The ministry insisted that security forces exercised self-restraint and made every effort not to cause injury.

The state-run Middle East News Agency corroborated the ministry’s statement, reporting that protesting students threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at security forces stationed outside the university, and then clashed with area residents who came to defend the security guards.

Azhar University’s security chief Mahmoud Sobeiha said in a phone interview with the privately owned ONTV live station that some of the protesters were Muslim Brotherhood members who were not current students at the university.

The Al-Azhar University Student Union released a statement holding Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb responsible for the violence, and declaring that they would continue their protest movement despite the clashes.

The clashes began between the pro-Muslim Brotherhood students and security forces earlier Monday afternoon, Abdel Moteleb told Mada Masr.

The students were protesting against the arrest of 40 of their classmates last Sunday, who were detained on charges of assaulting security forces, blocking the road, illegal assembly and vandalism in the course of demonstrations denouncing former President Mohamed Morsi’s removal from office.

Monday’s march was organized in protest against last week events, and also as part of an ongoing protest movement fronted by pro-Brotherhood students. In a statement preceding today’s protest, the student union vowed to use all peaceful means necessary to bring down what they refer to as “the bloody coup,” and said that today’s demonstrations would mark the beginning of an “Al-Azhar uprising.”

State news sources claimed that the students were attempting to march to Rabea al-Adaweya Mosque, the heart of pro-Morsi protests that were violently dispersed by security forces on August 14. As the march attempted to leave the campus, security forces reportedly fired warning shots and blocked the march on Nasr Road, leading to minor skirmishes, said the state-run news site Ahram Gate.

Abdel Moteleb denied these reports, however. He told Mada that students left campus around noon after peacefully protesting inside the university gates for two hours and headed to Nasr Road. He denied allegations that the protesters had attempted to storm the university’s administrative building, and also denied that the students had been planning to march on Rabea al-Adaweya.

The demonstrators were numerous compared to a relatively weak security presence, Abdel Moteleb said, adding that the students decided to return to the campus on their own, not due to pressure from police forces.

Cairo University was also a scene of protests today. Two opposing protests took place in the same faculty, one to support the leadership of the Armed Forces, and another to denounce Morsi’s ouster, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported. Security forces were present on campus to prevent clashes between the two sides.