At least one dead as protest on Cairo campus turns violent

CAIRO -- Violent clashes at an Islamic university that has become a flash point for protests left at least one student dead Saturday, according to activists and Egyptian state media. A second student was reported to be in critical condition.

The latest confrontations followed a day of street battles across the country between security forces and supporters of deposed Islamist President Mohamad Morsi in which at least five protesters were killed and more than 260 arrested.

Those rallies Friday, the main Muslim prayer day of the week, were the first major show of defiance after the government’s announcement Wednesday that it was declaring the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Morsi is a member, a terrorist organization.

At Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the campus was thrown into turmoil Saturday as Morsi supporters sought to disrupt what was to have been a first day of university final exams. There were contradictory accounts from students and police as to how the violence broke out, but in the months since Morsi’s ouster, Egyptian security forces have not hesitated to use deadly force against Islamist protesters.

Administrators and clerics at Al-Azhar, which is Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning, have generally taken an accommodating stance toward the military-backed interim government that supplanted Morsi’s administration. But the ex-president, now imprisoned and facing an array of charges, has a vocal and committed base of support among the student body, and protests demanding his reinstatement have been taking place almost daily.

Also Saturday, a prominent international rights group urged the interim government to rescind its terror declaration against the Brotherhood, which mandates harsh penalties for any connection to the movement, including its charitable activities.

Human Rights Watch said the declaration appeared to have been politically motivated, and also asserted that the Brotherhood had been blamed for Tuesday’s deadly bombing of a security headquarters in northern Egypt without a legitimate investigation having been conducted by Egyptian authorities.

A separate group, the militant Islamist organization Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, or Partisans of Jerusalem, claimed responsibility for the attack in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, which killed 16 people.

Laura.King@latimes.com

@laurakingLAT