Parents of arrested students plead for their release By Pakinam Amer

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Saturday December 16, 2006

By Pakinam Amer, Cairo- Following a wide-scale clampdown on Muslim Brotherhood students, parents of the students gathered at Cairo's bar association Saturday to plead with security officials for the release of their children. Some stricken parents came from towns and villages outside of Cairo in support for their sons' cause, saying that they should be released immediately as the school term is coming to an end, and final exams are underway.

Last Tuesday, at least 13 Muslim Brotherhood senior leaders and 140 Brotherhood-affiliated students were arrested by Egyptian authorities.

On Saturday, 109 of the students had their custody renewed for 15 more days, under the charges of belonging to a banned group and forming "a militant faction."

According to police sources, "the students were arrested while plotting a new move (against the government)."

The Muslim Brotherhood is a popular opposition group that uses the slogan "Islam is the Solution" to gain the support of the conservative grassroots.

The group has strong representation in parliament.

Some of the students were arrested in pre-dawn raids, with quite a few being woken up by dozens of strident security policemen and dragged from their homes and hostel rooms.

School books and personal computers were even confiscated.

The Safa Hostel in Egypt's Nasr City district remains cordoned off by security police. Regular resident students reported having difficulty gaining access and some spent the night on the streets, witnesses said.

Senior leaders arrested were Khayrat el-Shater, the second deputy to the Muslim Brotherhood's supreme guide, and his brother-in-law, the coordinator of Muslim Brotherhood university students.

El-Shater was accused of being the director and financer of the "militant" group of students.

The raid came in the wake of a rampant two-months-long conflict across Egyptian universities between Muslim Brotherhood students on the one side and security police and the university's administration on the other.

The Islamist students were reportedly banned from regular student union elections, prompting them to run their own "free union" elections - with on-campus voting and ceremonies.

The act provoked security authorities, who tend to keep a close eye on university internal affairs. They pressured university deans in taking "appropriate action," which included dismissing some students on a temporary basis.

The dismissal of five Azhar University students, less than two weeks ago, made the situation more tense. This was said to have pushed the Muslim Brotherhood students into a protest, described by some observers as "threatening" and "disturbing."

During the protest, the students gathered in front of the dean's office with their faces covered or wearing headbands labelled "we're standing."

The students were dressed in black and standing in military formation. They were unarmed, however. A dozen of the students proceeded to display their fighting skills in a militaristic manner, to the cheers of their colleagues.

This behaviour has caused outrage and shock. Newspapers, quoting security sources, labelled the group of students the "Azhar militias."

The Azhar university is an Islamic educational facility, which is however independent of the Azhar religious institution, a key authority on Sunni Islam in the Arab world.

Brotherhood leaders, among others, were the first to denounce the acts, denying any responsibility and pressing the students to issue a formal apology.

"We are deeply sorry for the negative portrayal that we gave of the Muslim Brotherhood," read the first line of the apology. "We are just students. We are not militias."

A student told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa Saturday that it was "merely an act of protest, a parade meant to catch attention."

A Muslim Brotherhood student, who requested anonymity, said that "it was an impulsive act, but only a reaction to the repressive measures imposed upon us. But it has caused troubles and raised accusations against the Muslim Brotherhood and for this we apologize."

The Muslim Brotherhood has been accused in many newspapers of owning camps for training the Brotherhood's younger elements for combat, with the Azhar university incident being cited as "proof."

Some newspapers painted pictures of how the brotherhood's "true face was revealed" and have portrayed the non-militant group as a "cloaked terror network."

"I do not understand what is happening," said a 20-year-old Salah, who refused to disclose his last name in fear of arrest. Salah is the head of the Muslim Brotherhood students public relations office.

Salah described the media coverage of the incident as "overblown" and said that the security police reaction to their "parade" was "exaggerated" and "surprisingly fast."

"The security police has been sleeping on other issues - sexual harassment of men in custody, corruption, transportation disasters. But when it comes to the brotherhood, they're suddenly alert and active," he said.

The Muslim Brotherhood's "guidance office" issued a heated statement against the student arrests saying that the security police had a "pre-intention" of jailing the students and had just been waiting waited for a good opportunity.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency