Egyptian police entered the Al-Azhar University in Cairo on Wednesday to confront Islamist protesters, AFP reported. It was the first time security forces have moved on a campus since a 2010 court ruling.
The police took the action at the prestigious Islamic university following a request from its administration, the interior ministry said.
Students supporting deposed Islamist president Mohammed Morsi have held regular and sometimes violent protests since the beginning of the school year in September.
According to the official MENA news agency, the protesting students had stormed the university’s offices on Wednesday, ransacking them and firing birdshot.
Police entered “the Al-Azhar University campus following a request from the university’s head Dr. Osama al-Abd to defend lives and public property,” said the interior ministry, according to AFP.
The police had obtained permission from the state prosecutor before doing so, it added in a statement.
A police general told AFP it was the first time police had entered a university since a 2010 court ruling banned guards belonging to the interior ministry from operating on their grounds.
Pressed by police at every turn, Islamists have adopted universities as protest hubs to galvanize their flagging movement four months after the military overthrew Morsi.
Several weeks ago, hundreds of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood chanted “Down with the military government” outside Cairo University, after they were urged by the group to hold protests.
Egypt has witnessed protests and clashes that have left scores dead since Morsi’s ouster on July 3.
The worst violence was in August, when police forcibly dispersed two protest camps set up by Morsi supporters.
Since August, Egypt’s authorities have rounded up dozens of senior leaders of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, including the movement’s Supreme Guide.
On October 6, security forces clashed with pro-Morsi crowds in Cairo as they tried to reach the capital’s Tahrir Square where supporters of the military were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War with Israel, known in Egypt as the October War.
On Wednesday, Essam el-Erian, one of the most senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders still at large, was arrested in Cairo.
El-Erian is the vice chairman of the Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party. Egypt’s interior ministry commented that a warrant had been issued against el-Erian by the state’s general prosecutor, accusing him of “inciting violence” and “aiding criminal acts.”