|Students run for cover after riot police fired tear gas canisters in Cairo on Sunday. (AFP)
Cairo, Oct. 21 (Reuters): Thousands of students from Egypt’s al-Azhar Univer sity staged a third day of protests on Monda y, security sources said, in one of the boldest challenges to the army since it toppled Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July.
The demonstrations demanding Mursi’s reinstatement are a delicate matter for the authorities because the administration at al-Azhar, the ancient seat of Sunni Muslim learning, has historically toed the government line.
In another sign of Egypt’s struggle to impose stability since Mursi’s ouster, the Prime Minister on Monday threatened tough measures against anyone who attempts to divide Egypt after gunmen killed four people in an attack on a church in Cairo.
The protests at al-Azhar campuses in Cairo and other cities are smaller than previous rallies against the army-backed government. Security sources said a total of about 4,000 students were involved, of whom 44 had been arrested.
The unrest suggests Mursi supporters may have shifted tactics, focusing on sensitive sites rather than huge street protests which often lead to strong action by the security forces.
Some clerics, officials and professors at al-Azhar are known to be supporters of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
It is not clear whether the protests reflect serious splits between them and their opponents at al-Azhar, or whether a group of students is simply trying to pressurise the government.
The authorities have been cracking down hard on the Brotherhood, which has won every vote since a popular uprising toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011, but is now outlawed again.
The student demonstrations erupted as a debate grows over a draft law that would severely restrict protests.
Human rights groups say the law would only bring more bloodshed to Egypt, a US ally which lies at the heart of West Asia and controls the Suez Canal, a global trade route.