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Myra Abdallah

Lebanese university students protest cancelled council elections

In a striking show of solidarity, students of various political affiliations rally together

Outside the Law and Political Science campus, Saint Joseph University, Huvelin street, 3 November (NOW images)
Outside the Law and Political Science campus, Saint Joseph University, Huvelin street, 3 November (NOW images)
Outside the Law and Political Science campus, Saint Joseph University, Huvelin street, 3 November (NOW images)

With presidential elections in Lebanon being obstructed and parliament likely to extend its mandate, students council elections are being cancelled at Lebanese universities.

 

After a fight erupted between Lebanese Forces and Free Patriotic Movement supporters among students at Notre Dame University (NDU) two days prior to student elections, the university decided to cancel the elections to avoid political tensions. Saint Joseph University (USJ) followed the same strategy and also cancelled elections.

 

Earlier this year, USJ President Father Salim Daccache had a different opinion towards elections in universities. “The university has the duty to initiate students to democratic values and to their loyal, lucid and pacific practice. [The university] should help in the creation of a students’ movement capable of actively contributing to the modernization and the reform of Lebanese political life,” Daccache told L’Orient-Le Jour. His statement was followed by an official decision by the USJ administration presided over by Daccache last Thursday, cancelling student elections for the current academic year.

 

The decision pushed USJ students to unite and organize a sit-in earlier today at the entrance of the Law and Political Science campus on Huvelin Street. “Students from all political parties were present at the sit-in. More than 300 students – supporters of Lebanese Forces, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Amal Movement, Hezbollah, Future Movement, Kataeb and others – were gathered under the Lebanese flag. “We are protesting against the cancellation of the elections,” said Naji Zoghbi, president of the Lebanese Forces student committee at USJ. “The university should form citizens who can speak up for their beliefs,” he told NOW.

 

Hassan Wehbe, youth and sports USJ committee member under Amal Movement, said that the sit-in was live evidence that there wouldn’t be any conflicts on campus. “To have democratic elections is our right as students. The sit-in was the first step towards getting our right back. The administration did not seem affected by today’s sit-in. If it does not respond to our demands, we will organize another sit-in in front of the Rectorate [USJ’s central administration building].”

 

Other universities may well to cancel their elections, as well. There has been tension between 8 March and 14 March 14 coalition supporters at the Lebanese American University (LAU) in Beirut, though some students there do not seem to feel the threat is as great. “In 2010, fiercer fights happened on the campus and the administration didn’t cancel the elections,” said Nadim (a pseudonym), student at LAU. “So far, students still have the freedom to organize political events. For example, earlier today, students were able to give political speeches in the presence of the dean and the University’s president,” Nadim told NOW.

 

“Students should be able to speak up for their political opinions because they are the future of Lebanon, said Zoghbi. :The elections are the only way that allows us to state our political beliefs in a democratic way, especially that our campus is a small representation of Lebanon as it gathers all Lebanese political parties. Elections are the only thing that will help us avoid conflicts on the campus.”

 

Myra Abdallah tweets @myraabdallah

 

Constanze Bayer contributed reporting.

“Food, Water, Oxygen, Right to vote” (NOW images)

To have democratic elections is our right as students. The sit-in was the first step towards getting our right back."