CAIRO — Egyptian security forces are tightening their crackdown on student activism by arresting scores of students at the start of the school term in an effort to crush a renewed wave of protests against the military-backed government that took power last year.
Mohamed Atef, the president of the student union at Al Azhar University in Cairo and the founder of Students Against the Coup, said the police raided his family home in Assiut at 3 a.m. Monday looking for him and arrested his brother.
At least 91 students have been arrested in Egypt since Friday, according to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, which has chapters on campuses across the country.
Universities are some of the last pockets of visible opposition to the military-backed government outside of the relatively lawless Sinai Peninsula, where militant Islamist groups are waging a campaign of guerrilla attacks against security forces.
The campuses, though, have a special significance in Egypt. They have also been seedbeds for the collaboration among Islamist and left-leaning youth groups, who together led the 2011 uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak. After the military took power in the summer of 2013, student protests all but shut down classes at several major universities for most of the school year, continuing even after other street protests were crushed. At least 14 students were killed in clashes with police, and thousands were arrested; more than 900 remain in prison more than a year later, according to the association.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who led the military takeover, reacted to the protests with an edict giving himself personal authority to appoint university presidents and department heads. Applicants for student housing were screened by the interior ministry. The country’s security forces were given new access to campuses, while a private security force got a contract to operate metal detectors and search arriving students.
Even so, fresh protests broke out at several universities as soon as they reopened Sunday. Students Against the Coup, a national coalition of groups, posted videos denouncing the detentions, the new security measures and infringements on academic freedom, as well as the ouster of the elected president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The country’s higher education minister, Al Sayed Abdul Khaliq, vowed in a television interview on Sunday that he would “immediately” expel any student or faculty member who took part in a protest.