Magharebia (Washington DC)

Libya: Walls Separate Derna University Students

Derna — Threats from radical Islamists forced Libya's Derna University on Tuesday (April 29th) to build a wall across campus to segregate male and female students.

The wall was approved by the administration after the Abu Saleem Brigade agreed to guard the university premises on condition that students would be segregated, Libya Herald reported.

The brigade was asked to protect the university last year after extremists angered by mixed-sex classes stormed the campus.

But when a series of security breaches in April forced the university's temporary closure, administrators agreed to the conditions first raised by the brigade last September.

A strict dress code for female students, including abeya and hijab, was introduced. And a second wall will also be raised at the university's Shaih campus in the centre of the town.

Derna local council members refused to comment due to fears of retaliation, but residents of the city had plenty to say on the subject.

"The construction of this barrier is the result of two years of pressure by Islamic militias in town, especially at the university," student Mariam Fathi said.

"Derna is more conservative than Tripoli or Benghazi; therefore, it was easy for Islamists to claim it," she added. "They're pressuring university employees and female students, criticising the mixing between genders and the clothes of some female students and some educational programmes they believe are against Islam."

Hana al-Chokri said, "In any society, the university age is a legal age for mixing between girls and boys, unlike the secondary school age."

"Did we have the revolution to build barriers?" she asked.

Insurance company employee Mahmoud Issa said the plan "shows backwardness".

"Instead of building a separating barrier, they should build other universities for girls only; this way, they can choose," 27-year-old engineering student Jamal Mohammed said.

For 18-year-old Derna student Yasin Bouderbala, however, "the barrier is the best solution for the university because of the many problems there, including harassment".

One Derna native criticised the university's measure on religious grounds.

"If separation had been a requirement under the Sharia, it would have been required during hajj, which is the largest gathering of Muslims of both genders," attorney Faris al-Wedani said.

But according to local journalist Osama Dirou said, "Derna's problem is not the university barrier."

"Derna has a particular situation that will only end when the state and institutions are built, not through local efforts," he told Magharebia.

"The issue is bigger than Derna," he added.

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