Hundreds of Egyptian students took to the streets today, shouting denunciations of President Hosni Mubarak and calling for vengeance in the prison death of an Egyptian police conscript convicted of murdering seven Israeli tourists.
The former policeman, Suleiman Khater, was found hanged in his prison hospital room yesterday, and a government statement later declared he had committed suicide. Anti-Israeli groups here and elsewhere in the Arab world that previously had dubbed Khater a hero treated him today as a martyr. Some of them alleged Egyptian and Israeli government complicity.
Analysts here said some of these Egyptians reacted in frustration with U.S. and Israeli policy in the region, as well as with Mubarak's apparent inability to win concessions for the Arabs in his pursuit of a comprehensive Middle East peace settlement.
The heated political atmosphere surrounding Khater's death, these sources said, may hinder Mubarak from striking a deal with Israel over the disputed Sinai territory of Taba.
At Zagazig University, where Khater had been enrolled in a correspondence course, about 700 students protested today. Some of them shouted at an Associated Press reporter, "We will kill him Mubarak , like we killed the other," an apparent reference to former president Anwar Sadat, assassinated by Moslem extremists in 1981.
At Al Azhar University, the main Islamic institution, about 500 students chanted antigovernment slogans, and demonstrators at Ain Shams University in Cairo pledged to "avenge the killing of Suleiman." Riot police surrounded all three campuses, and only one scuffle was reported.
Newspaper reports from several countries of the Arab world lauded Khater as a hero, some of them claiming he had been murdered by the Israeli secret service, Mossad, and some implying Egyptian complicity. Official Cairo radio referred to the allegations as "a torrent of lies." In Iran, a street in the capital city of Tehran was named in honor of Khater.
The Egyptian demonstrations were reminiscent of similar incidents in October. At that time, students were protesting the Oct. 1 Israeli raid on PLO headquarters in Tunis and the American seizure of an Egyptian plane carrying the hijackers of the Achille Lauro cruise ship. Khater killed four children, two women and a man on Oct. 5 and subsequently was hailed by demonstrators as the "hero of the Sinai."
Petitions called for the trial to be moved to a civilian court, where Khater was expected to receive a more sympathetic hearing, but the request was refused. On Dec. 28, Khater was sentenced by a military court to life in prison -- meaning a 25-year term here -- with hard labor.