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4 Killings at Arab Universities Prompt Calls for Better Campus Security

Four recent killings at universities in three Arab countries have sparked worries that violence on campuses is escalating across the region and that policies for keeping campuses safe need to be strengthened and better enforced.

Academics are also raising concerns about the role of social media, the added stresses on students in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the lack of psychological services on many campuses as factors that contribute to an apparent trend of escalating student violence.

The separate killings of two female students in Egypt and Jordan in late June had already provoked regionwide anger when the killings of two professors at a university in northern Iraq were announced last week.

The most recent killings took place on June 28 at at Salahaddin University–Erbil, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Local authorities said a gunman killed the dean of the Faculty of Law, Kawan Ismail, and a professor of engineering, Idris Hama Khan. The gunman was identified as a student who had previously been dismissed from Soran University and had been trying to transfer to Salahaddin University–Erbil.

Nayera Ashraf and Iman Rashid

The two young women killed earlier were identified as Nayera Ashraf, who was studying at Mansoura University in northern Egypt, and Iman Rashid, who was studying at the private Applied Sciences University, in a suburb north of Amman.

The great expansion in the use of social media by young people has helped to promote violence as a “natural reaction of students” towards problems on campuses.

Abdul Razzaq Al-Issa A former Iraqi minister of higher education

Ashraf was fatally stabbed outside her university on June 20 by a fellow student whose marriage proposal she had rejected, according to local media.

A few days later, Rashid, a 21-year-old nursing student, was shot and killed at her university in Jordan. It was not clear why she was attacked. Her family said they did not know the gunman.

According to several academics, these incidents are inseparable from an escalating tide of violence that many Arab universities have experienced in recent years.

Abdul Razzaq Al-Issa, a former Iraqi Minister of Higher Education, says that the increase in violence in Arab universities is “linked to the great expansion” in the use of social media by young people, which has helped to promote violence as a “natural reaction of students” towards problems on campuses.

In a telephone conversation with Al-Fanar Media, Al-Issa added that politicised student groups also give “justifications for the adoption of violence as a means of self-defense within educational institutions.”

Codes of Conduct to Counter Violence

A third factor that helps explain the rise in violent incidents in universities is the “absence of codes to confront violence,” Al-Issa said.

Conduct codes should be concerned with regulating daily professional and personal behaviour in order to support moral integrity on campuses and impose legal obligations on everyone, he said. However, Iraq’s universities and many other Arab universities “lack codes of this kind.”

Similarly, Nathir Obeidat, president of the University of Jordan, supports the demand to activate codes of conduct within Arab universities. In a telephone conversation with Al-Fanar Media, he called for constantly updating these codes to keep pace with developments that may occur in the behaviour of students and professors alike.

Obeidat also linked the issue of violence on campuses to the “widespread social, economic and psychological turmoil caused by the outbreak of the coronavirus.”

This turmoil has ignited in many students “tendencies for social violence and cruelty as the only way to empty their energy and anger at the difficult economic conditions,” he said.

The absence of rehabilitation programs specialised in providing psychological support to university students contributes to the rise in student violence.

Radwan Abu Rukba A professor of psychology at Al-Aqsa University, in Gaza

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He referred to a previous study, titled “Students, the Tribe and the State: The Crisis of Student Participation in Jordanian Universities,” by the academic and former Jordanian minister of culture, Basem Tweissi, which indicated that student clannism was one cause of violence and “a major cause of the great distortion in the political culture of students.”

This distortion, the study found, “means that our university produces generations that are unable to absorb the idea of ​​a contemporary civil state.” Thus, democratic tools of participation and representation are transformed into tools that produce phenomena that pose a serious threat to the structure and stability of the state.

Tending to Psychological Needs

In light of these concerns, Obeidat called for designing social and cultural programmes within Arab universities to meet the psychological needs of students, to help them overcome the difficulties of their reality and encourage them to engage in political action outside the university walls.

He also proposes adding to the curriculum a mandatory course concerned with behavioural and societal issues, and providing more activities for students to help them unload psychological energies, while applying the university’s laws in a “more stringent” manner.

Radwan Abu Rukba, a professor of psychology at Al-Aqsa University, in Gaza, attributes the increase in student violence to the absence of rehabilitation programmes specialised in providing psychological support to students at Arab universities.

In a statement to Al-Fanar Media, Abu Rukba said that the spread of social anxiety disorder was “one of the manifestations of the generation of violence.”

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Abu Rukba also supported the idea of creating a mandatory course on psychological health for university students. He also stressed that psychological support units in universities could play a significant role in raising awareness of the dangers of violence and organising sessions for those who are exposed to disorders that may lead them to commit violence.

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