Egypt Protestors Killed, Arrested, and Set Fire to University Campus as Clashes Escalate
Three days after the Muslim Brotherhood was declared a terrorist organization by Egypt's current interim government, clashes have broken out across the country. Following the arrests of over 265 protestors Friday, pro-Brotherhood students set fire to two university buildings at the Cairo campus of Al-Azhar University on Saturday. The escalating violence and continued crackdown on the Brotherhood has drawn condemnation from human rights groups and concern from the international community, even as the interim government gears up for next month's referendum on a new constitution.
According to state-run media, the violence started early Saturday, when security forces fired teargas at a group of Muslim Brotherhood supporters whose demonstration was blocking their fellow students from getting into their exam halls. The protestors then responded by throwing rocks at the security forces, eventually setting fire to tires and university buildings.
Saturday's clashes come a day after a wave of pro-Brotherhood protests swept across Egypt, during which at least five people were killed and 265 others were arrested, including 28 women. One 20-year-old protestor died after being shot, another was killed after a tear gas canister hit him in the face, and a third was killed in the capital. According to government security forces, many of the protestors were carrying molotov cocktails, blocking roads, and assaulting citizens.
But the arrests also come amid a months-long government crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. On Wednesday, interim President Adli Mansour's administration upped the stakes by designating the Brotherhood a terrorist organization — further blurring the legalities of arrests and detainments — after a bombing in the Mansoura region of the country. Although a different group, the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdes, allegedly claimed responsibility for the attack, the government blamed the Brotherhood entirely, a move that was condemned by the New York-based group Human Rights Watch on Saturday.
"By rushing to point the finger at the Brotherhood without investigations or evidence, the government seems motivated solely by its desire to crush a major opposition movement," said one member of the HMW.
Now, in addition to the newly instated draconian anti-protest laws, anyone accused of being part of pro-Muslim Brotherhood gatherings, supporting the group "verbally or in writing", or even just being in possession of Brotherhood leaflets, can be sentenced to five years in prison. And according to Al-Jazeera, the government has even set up a hotline asking the public to report any suspected Brotherhood-related activity, bringing the country one step closer to a police state.
“Through both legal processes and their control of the media, the government has been trying to generate this notion that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization carrying out violent acts, with the absence of any evidence," the regional director for Human Rights Watch said last week. "These charges really underscore the extent to which the government is focused on exterminating the Muslim Brotherhood as a political opposition. It is an all-out campaign to destroy it.”
Although the rest of the world is watching with a wary eye — U.S Secretary of State John Kerry made a phone call to his Egyptian counterpart to "express concern" over the clashes and arrests — Egypt will not declare a state of emergency, even if the violence continues, the Egyptian government said Saturday.