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In Egypt, Protests Shift To University Campuses


Let's turn next to Egypt, where the protest movement is shifting from the street to university campuses. Student activism is now at the heart of dissent against the military-backed government. But like Egypt itself, this movement is divided. Groups of secular and Islamist protesters are working separately, closing down campuses and demanding that the police be tried for their crimes. From Cairo, NPR's Leila Fadel sent this report.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: At Cairo University, students wave a flag emblazoned with the face of Mohamed Reda. He's a young engineering student who was killed last month on campus. Protesters here say police killed him, and they won't rest until the police are held accountable. Now, he's a symbol of abuse at the hands of the security forces and a rallying icon for dissent. Engineering students shut down their campus for a week, and the demonstrations continue.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in foreign language)

FADEL: Mohamed Reda, your blood will free the country, students chant. The murderer is still at the gate. Above the crowd is a picture of policemen in attack positions with the word wanted splashed across it in red. Another banner says: The student is the solution. It is a sign that demonstrations against the army, the police and what is known here as the Deep State are shifting from Egypt's main streets and squares to university campuses. Here at the engineering school, much of the faculty is on the side of the students. In a local television interview, the president of Cairo University blamed police for Mohammed Reda's death.

AMR KHALED: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Amr Khaled, a 20-year-old engineering student, says he's here because a fellow student was killed, and because the authorities tried to pin the blame on another student. That could have been me or any of these students here, he says. And it's not OK. But Khaled takes pains to differentiate between this protest and others staged on campus by Islamist students. This is not about ousted president Mohamed Morsi, he says. This is about justice. Khaled and others here get word that a pro-Morsi protest is beginning at the main campus. So they end their own demonstration because they don't want to be associated with those calling for Morsi's return.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in foreign language)

FADEL: Across the way, pro-Morsi protesters also hold Mohammed Reda's picture, along with the yellow banners bearing the four-fingered symbol of the pro-Morsi camp. They call themselves Students against the Coup - the July 3rd military coup that ousted Morsi. Secular and leftist activists on university campuses and beyond say they are against the army and Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. They say the Brotherhood failed the revolution, and they don't want Morsi back. For weeks now, students at the Egypt's highest institute of Islamic learning, Al-Azhar, have been protesting in support of Morsi, demanding his reinstatement and clashing with police. Dozens have been arrested, 12 of whom have already been slapped with 17-year prison sentences.

GHADIE NOUR: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: At the pro-Muslim Brotherhood rally at Cairo University, Ghadie Nour says the revolution was started by young people, and now they're going to launch it again.

NOUR: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Nour adds: We're striking everywhere: universities, schools and even the street. Rabab el Mahdi is a political science professor at the American University in Cairo.

RABAB EL MAHDI: Historically speaking, universities in Egypt have been a reservoir for activism and dissent.

FADEL: It dates back to the 1940s, she says. And the pro-democracy movement in Egypt began on university campuses in 2002. With a new protest law in place that bans unauthorized demonstrations in public spaces, students are using their campuses to stage protests. She says they are relatively safe spaces. At least they were until students started getting killed.

MAHDI: Instead of instilling fear in the student body, we saw the protests spread to universities across Egypt, including even private universities.

FADEL: She says she hopes that campuses will spur a new movement, a movement that isn't for the Muslim Brotherhood or the army, but for the goals of the revolution. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.