Cairo: Egyptian students started on Saturday going back to their classes after a longer-than-usual mid-year vacation, overshadowed by the country’s political and security turmoil.
Police patrols were seen roaming streets near schools in the Egyptian capital as the military-backed government has vowed to deal firmly with any attempt to disrupt the educational process.
“We cannot keep our children any longer at home,” said Nadia Makhlouf, a housewife as she escorted her nine-year-old child to a school in northern Cairo. “God is the best protector. The repeated delay of the resumption of studies forced pupils to stay at home for more than one month. They have forgotten what they had studied before.”
Educational authorities have said the new semester will be cut to 39 days, making it one of the shortest in Egypt’s modern history. Large parts of syllabuses are to be removed as a result.
Schools and universities in this nation of 86 million were originally due to reopen on February 8 after the usually two-week mid-year break. However, the government put off the resumption of classes twice, citing an outbreak of swine flu and security concerns. In the first semester, several Egyptian universities were rocked by bloody protests, blamed on students backing the deposed Islamist president Mohammad Mursi.
The state-run Al Azhar University, which bore the brunt of the violence, has again postponed reopening its classes until March 15.
Al Azhar is a stronghold of Islamist students. Other public universities started classes on Saturday with their security personnel checking students’ ID cards and searching cars before allowing them on campus.
An alliance led by Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood has called on students and other Egyptians to hold a “revolutionary day” marking International Women’s Day. No large protests were reported.
However, one person was injured when a crude bomb exploded outside the Women’s College in the eastern Cairo area of Heliopolis on Saturday, state television reported. Another bomb was defused. No-one has claimed responsibility.
“With many of its leaders already behind bars, the Brotherhood still hopes that its students will plunge universities into chaos and force the cancellation of studies to show that state authorities are weak,” said Mamdouh Abdul Halim, a security expert. “The postponement of studies until today (Saturday) gave both police and universities more time to be ready to effectively deal with any attempt of unrest.”
Last month, a presidential decree empowered presidents of universities to expel students found guilty of committing “subversive acts” on the campus. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Higher Education sealed a security pact with the Interior Ministry whereby the latter will place security forces on alert in the vicinity of universities to be summoned into the campus for dispersing violent protests.
Hundreds of students were detained and other dozens killed in clashes with police in Egypt during the first semester that began in September.