Interior Minister warns Brothers against disrupting referendum

Egypt’s Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim delivered a press conference on Wednesday in which he warned the Muslim Brotherhood against protests to disrupt the referendum on the new draft constitution, which is immanently expected.

Ibrahim maintained, “The Brotherhood will not achieve their goal [of interrupting the referendum],” confirming that both the army and police forces would protect voters and safeguard polling stations.

The minister delivered his speech against a backdrop of police crackdowns on widening student protests at universities across the country.

On Tuesday, riot forces were deployed to quell protests at the universities of Cairo, Assiut and Al-Azhar. The Interior Ministry claimed that roads were blocked, and several police vehicles torched by Al-Azhar University students in Cairo’s eastern district of Nasr City.

Brotherhood students, and other university students affiliated with the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, have been spearheading marches and protests – both on campus and off – to demand the release of hundreds of colleagues who have been arrested during recent student protests to denounce what they refer to as the July 3 “coup,” and calling for the reinstatement of ousted President Mohamed Morsi.

The Interior Ministry’s forces have been bolstered by a new law regulating protests, which interim President Adly Mansour passed into law on November 24, granting police the right to forcefully disperse protests – by using tear gas, water cannons and live shotgun fire.

However, even prior to the issuing of this law, a student was killed at Al-Azhar University dorms during on-campus clashes with police on November 21. Another student at Cairo University died of gunshot wounds on November 28, also during clashes with riot police.

In Wednesday’s press conference, Ibrahim claimed that the Interior Ministry was not responsible for either of the student deaths. The minister blamed protesting university students, particularly those affiliated with the Brotherhood, for killing these youths.

The prosecutor general has cleared the police of any wrongdoing, claiming student protesters are responsible for the loss of life.

Ibrahim added that the Interior Ministry is “exercising restraint” in dealing with “trouble-making elements,” yet hundreds of students have reportedly been injured and arrested in the crackdowns.

Ibrahim said he does not approve of bringing police forces back onto university campuses – as was the practice during the rule of Hosni Mubarak – as this could heighten tensions or clashes between students and police.

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