By Khaoula Sliti
The civil disorder that has prevailed in much of Libya since the overthrow of the regime of Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi has spread to the country’s campuses, with attacks on professors causing many to emigrate rather than live in the midst of conflict.
Of the 20 universities that were active in Libya in 2011, only 12 are still operating.
“Libya is losing its best qualified people, because they cannot withstand the continuous violence and the deteriorating economic situation,” said Ali Sa’eed, professor of education at the University of Sabratha. “Migration seems to be an ideal solution.”
Over the past six years, Libyan universities have turned into battlegrounds as armed groups compete to extend their influence, in a context of deteriorating economic and security conditions, widespread availability of weapons and absence of rule of law. (See related article: “Forgotten War, Forgotten Country, Forgotten Universities“)
Salem Sharifi, a university professor at al-Zawia University, west of Tripoli, blamed the rival governments that have been running Libya since the revolution. “I do not see any government showing a real interest in the protection of educational institutions or a real desire for reform and change,” he said. “This very negatively affects the quality of education.”
Ahmed bin Suwaid, a professor at Tripoli University Medical School, resigned from his position after he was beaten by a group of armed students for refusing to leak exam questions.
“For me the biggest shock was the university administration’s submissive attitude to the threats,” he said. “I had no choice but to leave the university and the country as a whole.”
Suwaid’s wife, a professor at the Administrative Sciences Institute at Qerqarish who did not want her name used, was threatened by students after giving them a failing grade, and also resigned.
Suwaid and his wife are examples of the many Libyan professors who have left the country not just because of difficult conditions but to save their lives. No official count exists of the number of professors who have left, but similar incidents are regularly reported on social media and in the Libyan media.
In March, gunmen stormed al-Marqab University in Alkhams City to the east of Tripoli in an attempt to intimidate students, faculty and staff. That prompted the university administration to close the campus.
In April, Salem Mohammed Beitelmal, a professor of marine engineering at Tripoli University, was kidnapped on his way to work. His car was found near his home but his whereabouts remain unknown. In response, Amnesty International issued a statement calling on the internationally recognized Libyan National Accord Government to restore rule of law and ensure a prompt and safe return of all abductees, including Beitelmal.
“The case illustrates the constant dangers posed to civilians by militias,” the statement read. “It also highlights the complicity of political and state officials who have thus far failed to put a halt to this lucrative practice by militias.”
Many of the abductees’ families prefer not to report abductions for fear of reprisals. Most kidnappings are carried out with the aim of extracting ransom from families, or in some cases to negotiate the exchange of abductees with faction members held in detention. Militants also use abductions to terrorize and silence their opponents.
Besides security breaches, a report issued by the Libyan Organization for Policies and Strategies (LOOPS) in May 2016 found that universities are suffering from other illegal activities, such as drug use, theft and looting.
Ali Sa’eed said that some students are members of armed factions while continuing their studies at the same time. “They carry weapons on campus,” he said.
“We have to define what we want from education and what role it plays in the development process that Libya needs,” he said. “Above all, we must protect university professors and students from violence and terrorism.”
Khaoula Sliti is a Tunisian journalist and radio presenter at Shams FM (www.shemsfm.net). She has bachelor’s degree in journalism and a masters degree in Media science.