Friday, February 3, 2012

University of Bahrain: Where is the Education?

On March 13th, 2011, students of the University of Bahrain thought it was just another week they had to get through to reach the weekend. Little did they know it was a day, none of them will forget.
A month into the Pro-Democracy movement in Bahrain, students were advised to resume the roles in gaining education as the new semester begins. Student unions end their strike and head to the campuses for a new start.
During the 8:00 am class, news spread about a military crackdown on the Pearl Square, the gathering place of the Pro-Democracy protests. In solidarity, many students left to join the protesters, the remainder of the students gathered in the main foyer of the campus in a peaceful sit-in condemning the military act.
Peaceful protests took place in University of Bahrain on different occasions and the campus security and university administration always join. This time it was different. Shortly into the sit in, the gates of the university opened allowing armed regime loyalists to come in and attack the students (who were mostly girls).
March 13th was a day marking the battle between the students and their caretakers, between the armed and the unarmed, between humanity and inhumanity.
The question everyone asked was: Where is the security? Where is the President of the University? Where are the police?
Let’s see…
v  The President of the University of Bahrain, Mr. Ebrahim Janahi, made sure he personally went and welcomed the armed loyalists at the main gates. Gave them his blessings and watched from his office window as the fight broke.
v  Campus security took their rule very seriously; they protected the armed guests who came from outside the walls of university. When asked by students why they weren’t protecting them, they answered: “the orders came from above”.
v  Finally the riot police arrived, however, they were shooting at the students. News of army vehicles lining outside the gates spreads.
The university was closed after the black Sunday, many students were injured, many students remained traumatised after the unexpected attacks, and many students still had hope.
With the declaration of Martial Law, the series of arrests began and the university students weren’t safe of it. The Bahrain Centre of Human Rights reported in June the arrest of 78 University of Bahrain students, majority of which in house raids. Political involvement was not the base of the arrests as many students had no political activities, the arrests mainly targeted students from a single sect which is associated with the majority of the opposition. The detained students were subjected to sever torture and forced to sign false confessions, accusing them with being involved in the March 13th incident where many students were injured (80 – 100) and many buildings were vandalised.
After the completion of arrests phase, the University of Bahrain began expelling students who are thought to be involved in the March 13th incident. Whether they were there on the day or not, like the arrests, the expulsion only targeted students from a single sect. Around 600 students were expelled in 4 days, ironically including 47 of the 50 who are on the Dean’s list of honour.
To think that arrests and expulsions of university students would be unheard of and unusual for a higher education facility is only normal, what isn’t normal was the introduction of a mandatory loyalty pledge to be signed by students as they resumed studies (three months after the incident of March 13th). Students were not allowed in the campus unless they signed the pledge, even if they were only visiting the administration building. The pledge stated that the students at all times will be loyal to the monarchy of the Kingdom of Bahrain and will never be involved in any activities organised by the opposition (even if authorised by the government) whether on or off campus. The pledge also stated that the students now acknowledge that the cost of running the courses is 120% higher than what they actually pay and they should thank the Government of Bahrain for subsidising higher education.
The army had a small base on campus. Their responsibility was to make sure no care entered or exited the university unless searched. Every bag, folder, wallet, phone, laptop and makeup case was searched prior to entering the buildings. Such checkpoints delayed classes by three hours every morning and as a result the timing of lectures changed, the attitudes of the students changed and the university life changed.
The University of Bahrain now being an unhealthy place for education made many professors and lecturers resign in objection of the way students were treated. Many students also could not bear to go there every day and planned a mass withdrawal from the semester. Around 50% of the total students’ registered applied for single semester withdrawal, which is nearing 8000 students, in solidarity of their detained and expelled colleagues. The University of Bahrain’s management took revenge by forbidding those students from registering again, a move that was referred to by the loyalists as “cleansing the university for good”.
Fighting with the little attention they had, the students of the University of Bahrain organised a series of events demanding the freedom of their colleagues. When the detained students announced their hunger strike, the students outside joined them in a 15 days Hunger Strike. The strike spread beyond students to include their friends and families and parents. The Hunger Strike was publicised in the social media, especially on Twitter, students would post updates about their strike, how they felt and why were they doing it. It was picked by many international journalised. Pressured by international media, 70 students were released on bail now awaiting their trials from home and most of the expelled students were allowed to return to the University of Bahrain. 
Will University of Bahrain ever be what it used to be? I don’t think so…
Today, six students are serving 15 years in prison after being sentenced by the Military Court. Today, 40 students are still expelled. Today, more than 200 students are being tried and forbidden from withdrawal. Today, female students are kidnapped from campus by the loyalists (with the help of campus security) and beaten then left on the street. Today, students are still being arrested by the University’s checkpoints for holding pens and mirrors. Today, the University of Bahrain lost the ranking it had worked to achieve for many years. Today, the University of Bahrain is no longer a place for education.

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