Egyptian students defy law banning protests

In first application of new law, security forces fire tear gas to disperse students south of Cairo

Students at Cairo University, who are supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, hold a demonstration in front of police at the main gate of the university in Cairo on Nov. 24, 2013.
Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

Egyptian security forces on Monday fired tear gas to disperse university students who had defied a new law that restricts demonstrations, the state news agency reported.

Students of Al-Azhar University and Assiut University in Assiut province, south of Cairo, staged a protest, chanting against the army and police in defiance of the new law, passed on Sunday, which bans protests without prior police approval.

In the first application of the new law, the Interior Ministry approved requests on Monday for protests by lawyers and political activists in front of the lawyers' syndicate in Cairo and the State Council in Giza, it said on its Facebook page.

In another statement, it issued a warning to supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, who it said were planning a protest on Tuesday in Giza province, near the pyramids, with the goal of disrupting traffic and harming tourism.

"The Interior Ministry is determined to implement the law and confront these attempts with all force and decisiveness according to what is guaranteed by the law," the ministry said.

Egypt has experienced some of its worst civilian violence in decades after the army, prompted by mass protests, ousted the country's first democratically elected leader, Mohamed Morsi, on July 3. It has since introduced a political roadmap that will lead to new elections next year.

Hundreds of Morsi supporters were killed when security forces stormed two pro-Morsi camps on Aug. 14, and thousands were arrested in a crackdown against members of his Muslim Brotherhood group, whom the government accuses of supporting violence and terrorism.

The Muslim Brotherhood denies any links to violence and has called the army's ousting of Morsi a military coup.

Activists have described the new law on demonstrations as a violation of their right to protest and have vowed to defy it. Egypt has ousted two presidents in less than three years through mass protests.

"The unfair protest law will be broken," said Ahmed Mahler, whose April 6 movement helped lead the uprising against former autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The United States on Monday expressed concern over the new law and said it agrees with groups that argue the law hampers the country's move toward democracy.

"The United States wants Egypt's transition to an inclusive democracy to succeed," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. "We urge the interim government to respect individual rights and we urge that the new constitution protect such rights."

The U.S. has suspended military aid to Egypt and pressed the country's interim government to stick to a road map to democracy that will lead to new elections next year.

The Obama administration announced plans in October to withhold $260 million in cash and various military equipment sales from Egypt, although it continues military support for security in Sinai Peninsula, which borders Israel.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military said Monday it has transferred the first of four U.S.-built fast patrol boats to Egypt, but said the move did not signal a change in Washington's decision to withhold most military aid.

"This is not a shift in our posture with regard to foreign military assistance," said Pentagon spokesman Navy Commander Bill Speaks, adding that Washington continued to review the overall level of aid to Egypt.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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