The wall under construction.
Under Libya’s monarchy and Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, schools and universities in Libya had always been co-ed. However, in Derna, located in eastern Libya, male and female students are about to be separated for the first time. A local militia is building a wall in the middle of the university campus in order to segregate them.
The wall will be finished in two weeks, and then classes will resume at Omar al-Mokhtar University in Derna. The construction of this wall is the result of an agreement between the university administration and a local Islamist militia known as Buslim, which will provide security inside the school.
"The militia threatened the professors and female students"
Zohra (not her real name) is a former professor at Omar al-Mokhtar University in Derna.
This wall is the result of two years of pressure from Islamist militias on the city, and more specifically on the university. Derna is even more conservative than the big Libyan cities like Tripoli or Benghazi. Islamists settled here following Gaddafi’s fall. They have been putting pressure on the university administration and the school’s female students. They criticise co-ed classes, the outfits of some female students, and some disciplines that are, according to them, an offence to Islam. The law department in particular is being targeted because it teaches the laws of this world, and not Sharia law – even though Libyan laws are inspired by Islam!Militiamen in the university.These extremist militias didn’t just lambast the university; they also threatened professors and female students via street graffiti close to the university. There were even death threats. In fact, many professors have left to go teach in Benghazi or Tripoli.“The students know their lives are on the line if they criticise these measures”The lack of security in Derna, particularly inside the university, allowed the Islamists to take control of the city [Editor’s Note: the university was closed twice over the past two years due to campus security problems]. Weapons were brought onto the campus. They were a number of injuries during clashes between students. The militias then offered the university administration a deal: they would provide security on campus in exchange for the introduction of an “Islamic” dress code for female students and the construction of a wall to separate men and women. The university’s president, as well as Derna’s local council, accepted this proposal.The wall under construction near the architecture department.In terms of the students’ perspectives on these changes, I haven’t heard any opposition, but that does not mean they are all in favour: they know their lives are on the line if they criticise these measures. And some just want the university to reopen so that they can resume their studies, regardless of whether the genders are mixed or separated.It’s normal that, after the fall of a dictatorial regime, a country would slip backward, because things take a while to fall into place. I’m not surprised that such an initiative was proposed by militiamen or even regular people, but it’s just depressing that both the university administration and the city government would approve.
Derna, formerly the capital of the Cyrenaica region, is known for harbouring alleged members of al Qaeda. Back in February 2011, prior to Gaddafi’s fall, the Lybian Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs claimed that the rebels — notably a former Guantanamo detainee — had created an “Islamic empire” there.