Libyan Students Call for More Secure Campuses
Libyan students are calling for more security on campus in the wake of mixed results by the government and university administrators in curbing gunfights, sexual harassment and other violence.
“The steps taken to secure our campus are not enough,” said Mohammed Al-Salik, a medical student at Sirte University on Libya’s coast. “Those guarding the university are not real security personnel. They lack the proper training.”
Two years after the Libyan revolution and the death of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi, the security situation is precarious at best in the country’s cities. Gaddafi avoided having a strong national police force or army, for fear they would turn against him, and they remain extremely weak institutions. Weapons have swamped the country’s streets as militias vie for control over swathes of the country. The prime minister himself was kidnapped for a few hours in October.
On Friday, 7,000 protestors gathered in Tripoli asking that militias leave the capital, according to the Associated Press, which also reported that 43 protestors were killed earlier in the month as they marched demanding that militias depart from the streets of the city.
The fighting has spilled onto Libya’s campuses.
Earlier this year, three Sirte University students died in armed clashes between tribal groups.
“A student was killed by a stray bullet that hit her in the head,” recalled Al-Salik. “This tragedy deeply affected me and my sister, who was her classmate.”
Earlier this year, students at the University of Tripoli went on strike over poor security. They demanded the government take action following a number of sexual harassment reports against female students and several shooting incidents on campus.
“I do not think there is a security at the university,” said a female medical student who asked not to be named. “Some guys with different uniforms, no identity cards, nothing, telling you they are security.”
Administrators responded by placing guards at the university gates and installing surveillance cameras around campus.
Mohamed Nass, an engineering student at University of Tripoli, said the situation improved marginally.
“Yes, there remains some security breaches from non-students who find their way into the campus and fight – with weapons sometimes – or harass our female classmates,” he said. “But it is not as bad as it used to be.”
The university needs to create concrete plans to solve the issue for good, he said.
Nada Amer, a dentistry student at the University of Tripoli, says she felt safer on campus.
“The guards here are very strict,” she said. “This is not the case on all the campuses of the university. One of my friends who is studying in the main campus is always complaining about the security level there.”
Hilal Almontasir, dean of the Information Technology Faculty at the University of Tripoli, admits that guns and harassment are a problem on Libyan campuses.
“Security of the university is a problem as it is a state problem,” he said.
Be he added that even a slight improvement in security is testament to how Libyan universities are coping with the challenge.
“Despite the security problems, the university is one of the few state institutions that operates and does its work,” said Almontasir.
In Libya’s second largest city, Benghazi — the scene of bombings, repeated assassinations and the infamous September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission—students said the situation actually wasn’t as dire as elsewhere in Libya.
“Despite the fact that I cannot see any strict measures taken except for the patrols guarding the gates, the security situation in my university remains good compared to the enormous number of weapons in the country,” said Mohamed El-Ghazal, who studies information technology at Benghazi University.
“Back in 2012 I witnessed a fight between two men,” said El-Ghazal. “One of them was armed but the students present at the scene succeeded in calming things down and prevented what might have escalated into a tragedy.”
Even so, other students at the university say they would like to see more security put in place.
“There haven’t been any serious incidents or security infringements on campus, but with the lack of security in the country, we’d like to have professional security guards just in case,” said Nada El-Feituri, an engineering student at Benghazi.
The major cause of concern was non-students “loitering around the campus,” she said.
“I don’t know why the university can’t or won’t employ proper security guards,” she said.
Some say the security personnel are part of the problem. “They are actually responsible for a lot of the security breaches that take place – some of them also verbally harass female students,” said Al-Salik.
Some students just shrug off security concerns.
Studying medicine at the University of Sebha in south Libya, Einas Al-Mazi was satisfied with security on her campus. Each department has its own facility and therefore its own separate security staff, making it easier for the guards to focus on their job, including handling nuisances that aren’t alien to higher education in many other countries.
“We only had very few shooting incidents and some individual cases where drunkards caused some mess on campus,” she said.
Reda Fhelboom in Tripoli contributed to this report.