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December 28, 2013

Anti-government Protesters Clash With Police in Cairo

by Edward Yeranian

Anti-government protesters, including supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, allegedly set fire to at least one building at Egypt's venerable Azhar University Saturday.

According to reports by Reuters news agency and state media,

Workers used fire extinguishers to douse a blaze inside an office at the Azhar University School of Commerce Saturday. The facade of the structure and at least half a dozen offices were gutted by fires that appeared to have been deliberately set.

​Police arrested at least 60 alleged Islamists after the fire.

The dean of the school of commerce tries to assure students that exams will go ahead as scheduled.

Witnesses, however, say the fires forced their cancellation at the school of commerce, although exams in other departments have continued.

Some students loyal to former President Mohamed Morsi have called for a boycott of exams this month at Azhar University and have frequently protested on the campus.

Saturday, police fired tear gas at protesters on the campus. An interior ministry spokesman told state TV that police were trying to prevent anyone from disrupting exams.  

He urges students to respect exam schedules and head directly to their assigned exam rooms. He stresses that police are trying to protect the exam process and maintain order.

The head of the Islamist Salafi Nour Party, Younes Makhnoun, told the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV that the Muslim Brotherhood is “resorting to violence at the university level, because they have lost the support of the people and have few cards left to play.” His group no longer supports the Brotherhood.

Makhnoun accused the Brotherhood of trying "to scuttle the constitutional referendum because if there is a majority 'yes' vote, it will officially de-legitimize their own ousted government.”

Former Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, who heads the committee that drafted the new constitution, urged young people Saturday to turn out for the referendum sheduled for January 14 and 15.

He tells them to vote in numbers to approve the constitution by the highest possible margin, so that the political transition can go ahead, allowing the election of a new president and parliament. This, he says, will allow Egypt to overcome the current conflict.

Egypt's army-installed interim government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist organization” this past week. That allows police to arrest its supporters participating in protests or those who finance operations of the group.