In the bloody aftermath of Libya’s revolution, a fearless group of student activists made history by founding the country’s first democratically elected students’ union. Engineering student Moaad Majdub, the vice president of the founding committee of the University of Tripoli Students’ Union, tells Spotlight how it all happened.
What was your involvement in the recent revolution?
During the revolution, I, and most of my colleagues at the university, organised various protests. We asked students to stop attending classes while our fellow Libyan brothers were being murdered. This also gave us the time to contribute to the blessed revolution.
What role did students play?
Students are the fuel of the revolution – this is what’s known in the history of revolutions, and it is what happened with us also. Students played a huge role in all aspects of this revolution, from those who joined the front lines, the relief efforts, or participated in any other areas that contributed to the success of the revolution.
The best proof of that was the empty universities during the revolution days.
Young people today have a positive outlook for the future, carrying on their shoulders the responsibility that was handed to them by the blood of the martyrs who died in this revolution.
What is the higher education system like in Libya?
There are 13 public universities in Libya, giving students the chance to the study for free. The number of students at these universities is estimated at about 400,000.
Education in Libya is suffering from serious setbacks and, as a result, it cannot keep pace with developments in educational institutions all over the world. In addition, universities lack the most basic facilities that universities across the world are assumed to have.
What is the University of Tripoli’s background?
It is a public university based in the capital city, Tripoli. It was founded in 1957 during the days of the monarchy. After the ill-fated coup in 1969, its name was changed to Al-Fateh University. There are no fees, and the number of students is estimated to be around 43,500.
How has the university changed since the revolution?
If truth be told, the university has not changed much at all since the revolution. This can be attributed to the backward state the university was in prior to the revolution. The officials at the ministry of education have a huge task on their shoulders to revive and advance this university.
One of the most important changes that took place, though there aren’t many, is the commitment to university regulations, and the requirement that students and staff follow them – this has never happened in the past.
What is the history of student representation in Libya?
The history of students’ unions and student activism goes back a long time. From the time of the establishment of the universities in Libya, the old regime fought these institutions, and sought to eliminate their role from the first moment the regime was in power.
When was the students’ union set up at the University of Tripoli?
The first union was established prior to the rule of the tyrant, but when he came to power, he replaced it with revolutionary committees loyal to him. In the current period, the first students’ union was established, and its members elected in our college, in November 2011.
Why is a students’ union being set up now? Why has this not happened before?
Throughout the period of his rule, the tyrant did not allow the existence of any entity that represented students and spoke in their name. This was because students are part of the educated classes which can expose all the things he wanted to achieve. He therefore sought to thwart these entities.
What will the students’ union do, and how will it operate?
The students’ union has several objectives; one of its essential objectives is to speak on behalf of students and implement their aspirations and ambitions. Another essential objective is to fight for students’ rights – this is what the students’ union in our college is currently doing.
The union carries out these tasks through specialised committees and executive members, elected by the student body. The executive distributes functions of the union to these committees, each according to its field.
What plans do you have for the students’ union in the future?
All we want is for our efforts to be fruitful, and not go to waste. We want the union to have carried the weight of its words and to always try to achieve the goals of the students.
What challenges or opposition have you had to overcome in setting up the students’ union?
The most important challenge we faced as a founding committee was the questioning of how the committee came to existence, and how its members were selected. But when students saw our immense efforts to establish the union, they left the discussion aside and joined us to help.
The second challenge was the financial support that we needed and did not find. We did not have any support from anyone, and the university was too unstable at the time to be able to give us any support. We relied fully on contributions and the voluntary efforts of students until the university had formed a new administration and we began to co-ordinate on funding.
Therefore, we thank the administration for its massive support to create a union that represents students’ voices. As for the challenges for the future, we hope to have the road passable for this student entity because there are many challenges that may face it. The most important challenge of all will be fighting against those in the future who will want to silence this voice for the students, and who will seek to suppress it.