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World News

Egypt court orders police to leave universities

CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian court upheld a ruling on Saturday to end the decades-long presence of police on university campuses, a decision academics say could help restore their independence from the state.

Several Cairo University professors filed a suit saying the presence of Interior Ministry security units, in place since the early 1980s, was illegal and they should be replaced by civilian guards employed by the university.

A lower court ruled in the professors’ favour in 2008, citing the universities’ right to independence. The High Administrative Court upheld the decision in Saturday’s judgement, rejecting an appeal from officials including the prime minister and the interior minister.

“The High Administrative Court has decided to uphold the ruling ... which revoked the interior minister’s decision to establish security units on university campuses,” a court statement said.

“The presence of permanent Interior Ministry police forces inside the Cairo University campus represents an impairment of the independence guaranteed to the university by the constitution and the law,” the court added.

The minister of higher education said in comments published on the state-run al-Ahram website the government was committed to carrying out the decision, and civilians would appoint university security. The Interior Ministry had no immediate comment on the ruling.

The academics say the campus guards, who answer directly to the government, have interfered with university affairs such as student elections and have been used to stifle dissent.

Abdel Gelil Mustafa, a professor of medicine who helped file the original suit, said he and other professors would push to make sure the ruling was carried out.

“The ruling of today is very important because it puts our universities once again on the right track to restoring some of their independence, which is critical for any respectable academic institution,” he said.

The decision to install Interior Ministry police on public university campuses dates back to September 1981, when President Anwar Sadat rounded up political opponents, Mustafa said. Sadat was assassinated in October 1981.

The ruling comes in the run-up to Egypt’s parliamentary elections, scheduled for November 28. While the ruling party’s dominance is not in doubt, the poll is expected to test government restrictions on political opposition ahead of a 2011 presidential vote.

President Hosni Mubarak, 82, has not said whether he will seek a sixth six-year term, but members of the ruling party have indicated that he would seek re-election.

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