Omar Farahat, a student in the Faculty of Mass Communications at Cairo University had to break his food strike after seven days, even though what he and his colleagues has been calling for was not fulfilled. Farahat, who was on strike with 10 other students in the faculty building as a part of a sit-in that started more than two weeks ago, is demanding the resignation of the dean of the faculty. On Wednesday night, military police entered the university and forced the protesters to end their sit in.
“They attacked us using stun guns and gas bombs and dragged some of us from the fifth floor,” says Farahat who received a number of electric shocks, both in the head and the body. “I almost lost conscious and a number of other students fainted while trying to escape, but what disturbed us most was the way they treated the girls who participated with us.”
In the protest that took place the next morning the majority of the protesters were girls, who say they were beaten and grabbed outside the faculty building and then chased to the university gates.
Siham Magdi, who is supposed to finish her studies next year, was among those force to leave the sit-in Tuesday night. In the early morning she came back, despite her parent’s disapproval, joining the protest again.
“It is no longer a fight against the dean,” she says. “We have to protect our university and our right to protest. We have been a part of a revolution and people were killed to defend our right of free expression. It is not acceptable now that anyone would deprive us of this right under any circumstances,” says Magdi.
“Next time they will have to shoot us,” she says. Magdi was responding to the draft law that the interim government is trying to pass. The law criminalises sit-ins, strikes and protests with heavy penalties for offenders.
The situation was not only disturbing to the students, but also to university professors. “It is unacceptable that the army enters the university and attacks the students and professors in this way,” said Awatif Abdel Rahman, former head of Department of Journalism at the university, adding “we will make sure that those behind this is held responsible”. The professors of the faculty will file a complaint against the military police with the attorney general and will also support the sit-in until the students’ demands are met.
What started the protest?
According to Mahmoud Abdel Gawad, of the Department of Journalism, the students see Samy Abdel Aziz, dean of the Faculty of Mass Communications, as a symbol of Mubarak’s regime. “He is not only a distinguished member in the National Democratic Party, he was also chosen by the ex-president to be a member in parliament and was the first to accuse the protestors in Tahrir Square of following external agendas.”
On Wednesday, the protesters taking part in the sit-in for two weeks decided to take their protest a step forward. They gathered outside a hall where Abdel Aziz was giving a lecture and started chanting for his departure. A few hours later army officers came to the university and tried to convince the students to leave. They asked for representatives of the students to negotiate with the army and Omar Farahat was among them. “The army officer told us that the dean resigned and that his resignation was submitted to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces,” says Farahat. “They asked that the students end the sit-in while their representatives go to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces for further discussion. This was refused by the students.”
At around 8pm that night two armoured vessels entered Cairo University and tens of soldiers forced the students to end their sit-in. A number of university professors were also beaten and arrested as they tried to join the students. Dr Sherif Darwish of the Department of Journalism was arrested and put in an army vehicle. “The idea that the army was called into the university by the university president, and that all this violence was used to attack the students, is unacceptable,” Darwish says. “We have every right to question the rule of the interim government in such a mess and to hold it accountable, not only for the attack but for trying to end the revolution.”
Some professors say the army was called in by the university president after students surrounded Abdel Aziz’s office and refused to let him leave.
Omar Farahat, as Ahram Online left the university, insisted that the protesters would do all they can to “protect the revolution”. This is their revolution, he described, and they will not give up on their demands. The professors seem to agree. Awatif Abdel Rahman wondered, “How can we teach them to be free media people if we ask them to leave now?” Abdel Rahman herself will be questioned by university authorities after being accused of encouraging the students to protest.