First Published: November 6, 2006
The chants have become familiar: "National Security, out, this is our university and it will remain free; who runs the university, the dean or Internal Affairs,” shouted protesting university students on campuses throughout Cairo and the governorates.
In the latest such protest, students at Helwan University demonstrated against the arrest of 28 of their colleagues in their homes in Helwan during a pre-dawn raid on Sunday.
The arrest of the men, mostly students from the Faculty of Commerce, followed an election controversy spawned by allegations that the university administrators had removed the names of 520 Muslim Brotherhood nominees from the preliminary list of candidates ahead of student union elections.
Twenty-one students who were arrested were candidates, including seven freshman students, the Secretary of Executive Committee for the Brotherhood and another two who, according to Brotherhood members, were among the most distinguished nominees.
Brotherhood spokeswoman Shorouk El-Showf claimed that the nominations had been stolen. "When a member of the Brotherhood nominates himself, it goes into a different box," she said.
The Muslim Brotherhood confirmed on its website that up to 30 men had been detained in the Helwan district of southern Cairo.
The lawyer representing the detained students told The Daily Star Egypt that security forces arrested the men at their university dorm rooms and confiscated computers, LE 12,000 from one student and tuition.
Nearly 250 men and women, all seemingly Brotherhood members, protested outside Helwan University’s Administrative building demanding to speak with university president Abdel Hay Ebeid, who did eventually speak with the students, though he denied culpability.
Helwan University administrators were unavailable for comment when contacted by The Daily Star Egypt.
An additional 35 independent, communist, and “rightwing " candidates also seem to have had their names removed, in a move reminiscent of election discrepancies which erupted into violent clashes between students and security forces at Ain Shams, Cairo and Benha universities late last week.
Although no violence was reported in the Helwan University protests, tension has been mounting among university students in other universities.
Last week, violent clashes erupted in Cairo University after students affiliated with the Brotherhood staged a sit-in in protest that one of their members had his name removed from the official student union elections registry.
When students from the engineering and medical faculties tried to join ranks with the protestors, security forces intervened and started beating students.
“It is not surprising that state security attacked them by the hundreds but did nothing during the feast when women were harassed and raped in the middle of the street. This shows that the security forces are not a neutral body or a law-keeping force,” said Ibrahim El Houdaby, editor of the Muslim Brotherhood website and an AUC graduate.
“They are only here to defend the corrupt regime. They are only here to suppress the freedoms of society. They couldn't care less about protecting society, law or the rights of the people."
Seif Eldin Abdel Fattah, a professor at the faculty of political science and economics at Cairo University says the violent clashes on university campuses are bred of the absence of democracy.
“[This is the result of] a system that talks a lot about reform and doesn’t do anything about it in reality,” said
Abdel Fattah says one of the functions of democracy is envelop social practices in a peaceful way.
“When it is an issue of reform, the state … has to keep order and doesn’t intervene,” he told The Daily Star Egypt.
Wael Khalil, a socialist activist and a member of opposition movement Kefaya, said student union elections have always resulted in conflict, which escalated this year, he continued, because the state has made it obvious it won’t allow other parties to run.