Where is the voice of the Arab student movements?

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Hundreds of activists gather for encampment on the Diag on University of Michigan’s campus calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, on April 24, 2024 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States. [Adam J. Dewey – Anadolu Agency]

Voices are rising in numbers every day in universities all over the world denouncing the genocidal massacres that Israel has been committing in Gaza for over 200 days, moving towards forming a global bloc of universities creating the largest global student movement similar to the one the world witnessed in the 1960s and 1970s, which led to stopping the wars in Algeria and Vietnam.

The beginning of this new student movement began at Columbia University in the US, organised by the Students for Justice in Palestine movement, whose members set up their tents in the university’s courtyard on 17 April. This led to the disruption of classes in all the university’s departments and prompted its president to call the police to arrest the demonstrators, causing other students and faculty members to join the protestors’ encampment, which was transformed into an American “Hyde Park” where lectures were being held and speakers would take turns addressing the students. Activities range from chanting, singing and dancing to Palestinian Dabkeh tunes, with students saying they would remain there “chanting, singing, teaching, watching, praying, reading, debating, and breaking bread” until their demands are met.

The growing momentum of this movement, after it started small with a handful of students, prompted students from other universities in America to stand in solidarity with them, before the solidarity extended to reach universities all over the world, with big names in the world of politics, culture, thought and art joining in. At the same time, the ceiling of the demands of the student movement rose, and its demands went beyond a ceasefire and the return of their detained colleagues, reaching demands to end every contract between the universities and the military companies that supply Israel with weapons, and demanding that the universities’ boards reconsider all the agreements  made with the Israeli military industries and research institutions given the institutions’ core values of justice, peace and human rights.

This student protest spread to other universities inside America and in the world in the face of the continued war, continued silence and international collusion with criminals. Many students around the world have come to view the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” at Columbia University in Washington as a heroic act that they seek to model in order to put pressure on their universities, and through that, on their governments to take action to stop the genocidal war committed by the Israeli occupation army against the defenceless, innocent Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Read: Turkish youth activists demand Ankara cut trade with Israel 

In order to break this movement, the traditional weapon of “anti-Semitism” is being brandished to silence every voice that criticises Israel and its criminal actions, but given the students’ awareness, this weapon is no longer effective, especially after the students confirmed that they will continue their protest until their voices are heard. They declared that their movement is peaceful and follows in the footsteps of the civil rights and anti-war movements witnessed throughout American history.

Since the 1950s, student movements have become truly considered the engine of revolutions towards liberation and democracy, in various countries, from America to Europe to East Asia and in the Arab region during the Arab Spring, occupying the place that Marxism used to have in the role of the working class in changing the world, considering that “class struggle is the motor force of history” as the Marxists used to say. However, due to the weakness, politicisation and corruption of the unions, the student movement has become the one capable of making change in its societies, because of its youthful energy and political independence from parties and interest groups, and due to the great youthfulness, that makes it the undisputed creator of the future.

Is anti-war student activism being quashed on campus? - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Is anti-war student activism being quashed on campus? – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

However, in our Arab region, we can hardly hear the voices of students or universities, or at least, their voices have not echoed outside their countries, for unknown reasons. In the case of Morocco, which is close to me, the senses of fear and oppression are dominating the universities today. University professors and staff are afraid to raise their voices loudly on campus to support the Palestinian cause. On the other hand, there is systematic repression against student movements that want to raise their voices denouncing the criminal war on Gaza. Last month, the presidency of the Abdelmalek Essaadi University in Tetouan summoned security forces to besiege the campus and close it to students to prevent the sixth forum on Jerusalem, which the National Union of Moroccan Students from being held at the university. The forum was set to be held under the slogan “Al-Aqsa Flood: the honour and pride of the nation, the symbol of its victory and liberation,” but the university president decided to suspend classes and close all facilities for the three days the forum was scheduled to be held!

In the other more than 30 Moroccan universities, not counting the colleges and higher education institutions, silence tinged with fear prevails, whether among the ranks of students or among the professors and teachers. According to what a prominent university professor known for his progressive stances in support of just causes, most notably the Palestinian issue, told me, fear is what prevents Moroccan universities from taking action to advocate for the Palestinian cause and support the Palestinians. He cited a conversation between himself and the president of his university, which is a prestigious university in Rabat, as evidence of this, as when the professor proposed the idea of organising an educational event addressing the war on Gaza, the university president justified his fear of organising such an event by saying that the “higher authorities” in the state might not allow it, especially in light of the official normalisation of relations between the Moroccan state and the Zionist entity, which also includes Moroccan universities.

Read: Jewish students refute claims of anti-Semitism at pro-Palestine protests

Universities are a beacon of knowledge and leaders of society, and in Morocco they have historically been present at all the major turning points, even in the darkest years of embers and bullets, when university students and professors were at the forefront of leading the social and political movements that defended freedom, democracy and social justice. However, over the last two decades, the presidents of these universities have become mere employees who are more concerned about their positions and benefits than their academic reputation and status within society. They wait for the “signals” that come to them from the authority so that they can comply with them, and they do not hesitate to suppress all bothersome voices that might cause the authority to be angry and dissatisfied with them, thus costing them their positions and crushing their hopes of climbing the ladders.

As for the Moroccan student movement, it has always been at the forefront of the struggle of the Moroccan people, leading its civil movement, directing its political parties, and throughout Morocco’s history, it has presented many heroic stances and great sacrifices to lead society towards change, progress and development. During the popular movement periods that Morocco experienced, whether during the February 20 Movement in 2011 or during the Rif Movement in 2016, university youth were the ones leading (and framing) the demonstrations that attracted thousands of young people from all groups and from all educational levels, giving these movements great momentum. They would have had an impact within society had it not been for the authorities, the state, and the parties ganging up against them. What is preventing the Moroccan student movement from expressing its voice loudly today is the wave of systematic repression that the Moroccan repression machine has succeeded in spreading to all voices of protest.

While we are waiting for the conscience of the universities in our Arab region to awaken, the criminal war raging in Gaza has made many, even those far from the region and the issue, suffer from a deep moral crisis, and if the world does not respond to the voices that are rising demanding an end to the tragedy, this crisis will have terrible moral repercussions and devastating humanitarian consequences for the future of human coexistence based on values we are seeing being smashed before our eyes today while no one is acting.

This article first appeared in Arabic in the Palestinian Information Centre on 24 April 2024

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Disclaimer: Where is the voice of the Arab student movements? - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view

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