Update: 195 students arrested across Egypt in first 5 days of new semester

At least 195 university students were arrested across Egypt in the first week of the new semester, according to a study released by the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE).

The majority of these students were enrolled in state universities. They were arrested for their role in protests against the private security firm Falcon, which was recently contracted by the government to guard 15 public universities as well as Al-Azhar University’s main campus.

Protests began the day after classes commenced on October 11, and in some cases led to violent confrontations between students and security forces.

In just the first week of classes, police forces stormed Al-Azhar’s main campus in Nasr City twice, and also raided Cairo, Alexandria, Sadat and Zagazig University campuses, said Mohamed Nagy, a researcher in AFTE’s academic freedoms unit.

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Students Against the Coup movement were at the forefront of mobilizing protest actions and confrontations with the police, according to Nagy.

The Alexandria University raid was the most violent. Dozens of students were reportedly injured after being shot with live ammunition and pellet shots. Pursuant to the raid, student Omar Sherif was hospitalized and is currently in the intensive care unit, where doctors say he is in critical condition due to two pellet shots lodged in his head and chest. Classmate Nasser al-Saqqa was also seriously injured in the incident.

The prosecution ordered 15-day detention periods for 14 Alexandria University students pending investigations into charges of belonging to a terrorist organization, the attempted murder of their injured classmates Sherif and Saqqa, illegally blocking the roads, halting public transportation and throwing Molotov cocktails.

Saqqa was originally listed among the accused, according to lawyer Mohamed Ramadan, a member of the arrested students’ defense team. The authorities pressured the injured student to state that his imprisoned classmates were the ones who shot him in return for dropping the charges, Ramadan claimed.

“Saqqa, who was very scared, told me that he had to confess that his friends shot him to be removed from the case. I referred to this during the investigation,” Ramadan said.

On Monday, clashes broke out at four universities as students demonstrated against the strict policies implemented by Falcon. There were long queues at university gates, and stories circulated on social media of students being turned away from campus for not meeting the dress code. There were also reports that the new security teams confiscated bottles of perfume and body spray from female students at Zagazig University, on the grounds that they could be used to ignite fires.

Falcon Chief Executive Sherif Khaled previously told Mada Masr that the company’s one-year, renewable contract with the Ministry of Higher Education authorizes the company to provide security services for a number of universities, including Cairo, Ain Shams, Helwan, Al-Azhar, Alexandria, Beni Suef, Zagazig, Mansoura, Assiut, Fayoum, Banha and Minya.

He refused to disclose the amount of compensation Falcon would receive. However, noting that Cairo University President Gaber Nassar had allocated a security budget of LE50 million last year, Khaled added, “[Falcon] does not even get 10 percent of that amount for securing one campus.”

A number of local and international human rights organizations have condemned the arrests, describing them in a joint statement as a preemptive strike designed to hinder any events that were scheduled to take place at the start of the new term.

The statement described such security campaigns as “futile” when it comes to securing universities and stopping on-campus violence.

“This will only make matters worse, as it agitates students, rather than containing and controlling their anger,” the statement argued.

“The signatories assert that this campaign is nothing but a new episode of restrictions on the student movement, which reduces the freedoms gained over the last three years. It is inseparable from the campaign against public freedoms in Egypt in general, particularly against the freedom of thought and expression.”

The organizations demanded the immediate release of all students arrested on the first two days of the school year as an initial step to calming the situation. It also recommended supporting peaceful student activities, allowing full freedom of expression to students on campus, reassessing decisions to suspend students without serious inquiries, and immediate investigations into the killing of students during the previous school year.