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Egypt: Security forces raid esteemed Islamic university

Egyptian student protesters at Al-Azhar University in Cairo
Egyptian student protesters at Al-Azhar University in CairoGetty

Egyptian police stormed the prestigious Al-Azhar University in Cairo on Wednesday after masked anti-regime demonstrators began ransacking the main administration building.

Dozens of baton-wielding police and armored vehicles reportedly entered the premises and arrested 26 pro-Morsi protesters, according to Ahram Online, including 12 students and 14 outsiders. It was the first time security personnel have set foot on a college campus in Egypt since a court ban in 2010.

The Interior Ministry claims that police moved in at the request of University President Dr. Osama Al-Abd in order to “protect souls and public property.” Administrators accused students of instigating the violence while student leaders claim they retaliated only after being sprayed by water cannons.

The protests at Al-Azhar, the ancient seat of Sunni-Islamic learning in the Arab world, are an extension of the turmoil that engulfed Egypt after the country’s first freely-elected president, Mohamed Morsi, was ousted by a military coup in July.

At the time it seemed military leaders had acted in the best interests of the Egyptian people considering Morsi's approval ratings had sunk to 28% because of his illiberal decrees and mishandling of the economy. Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, even blessed Morsi’s removal.

But that was before security forces killed over 1,000 Morsi supporters during riots that erupted in the wake of the coup. The military's decision to forcefully disband the Muslim Brotherhood, according to some experts, could strengthen the hand of militant Islamist groups.

Some liberal leaders questioned the prudence of the new militocracy, including vice president Mohamed ElBaradei who resigned, fled to Vienna and was subsequently charged with "betrayal of trust."

Meanwhile Morsi and other senior Muslim Brotherhood figures languish behind bars, due to appear in court next week to answer charges of inciting violence.