University protests about Gaza spread to the Middle East

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But Arab students are looking to America for inspiration

Born in the USAphotograph: getty images

Compared with the demonstrations about the war in Gaza that have rocked the campuses of American universities, those at Arab institutions have been more limited. That could be changing. “We see our comrades from Columbia to Chicago”, says Tom, a Lebanese student at the American University of Beirut (aub), who did not want to give his full name. He was one of over 100 students at a demonstration on the aub campus on April 30th “inspired”, he says, by their American counterparts. Students in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Tunisia are also raising their voices.

The demonstrations in Beirut were orderly and restrained.The students strode along a designated route through aub with Palestinian flags held aloft. They were accompanied by university security guards. They chatted to journalists and then went back to their classes.

The restraint reflects Arab governments’ antipathy to mass protests. They have sometimes staged demonstrations in support of the Palestinians, hoping to allow their subjects to let off steam and divert attention from their own misrule. But most remain wary of public displays of discontent. In April the Egyptian authorities arrested ten people protesting in solidarity with the Palestinians.

The relative calm can also be explained by political differences. Chants that spark outrage in America, such as calls for the “end of the Zionist entity”, sound innocuous in Lebanon, which does not recognise Israel. aub did not denounce the demonstrations nor would counter-protests be at all likely.

Arab activists have struggled to find targets for their outrage about the war in Gaza. The students protesting in Beirut want aub to stop using Hewlett-Packard computers because the firm is named by the campaign for boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel. They may prove easier to satisfy than their counterparts in America.

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Disclaimer: University protests about Gaza spread to the Middle East - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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