Tribal-Fueled University Violence On Rise in Jordan

The most recent spate of violence in Jordanian universities has been attributed to tribal differences and rivalries, writes Tamer al-Samadi.

al-monitor Jordanian students face off riot police with their families in front of the Ministry of Higher Education in Amman on Oct. 8, 2011. The students were protesting difficult admission exam questions for transfer to Jordanian universities after their foreign studies were interrupted because of events in Yemen, Libya and Syria.  Photo by REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed.

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students, university, jordan, amman

Apr 15, 2013

Residents of the city of Karak have been dressing in black to mourn the death of a 20-year-old engineering student.

Officials said the man was killed [April 2] on the campus of a public university in this tribal stronghold 120 km (75 miles) south of  the Jordanian capital, Amman. Recent violence that has wreaked havoc in Jordan’s educational institutions, including student rioting that moved Karak into the forefront, could be a warning that there is a threat to stability and national peace.

It did not take long for anger to build up in the southern city, which relies on agriculture and is marginalized, like most of Jordan’s other rural areas. Increasing poverty, rampant price rises and a lack of services are factors that have prompted the residents to reach a breaking point.

The death of Osama Duhaisat, a young man from Karak and an engineering student at Mutah University, added fuel to the fire. In fact, the pictures telling stories of his short life, and testimonies of his friends who described his death as a black day in the history of higher education, were posted on Internet pages.

The unrest [caused by efforts] to settle regional and tribal scores has once again darkened the doors of universities in Jordan.

Chaos prevailed in classrooms and other parts of the university campus in protest of student government election results, which showed the tribes winning out over other groups.

University students in Jordan are usually divided between large tribes and tribal alliances. As student elections approach, the universities turn into heated areas of polarization.

In other universities, student meetings take place in tribal councils in the presence of influential tribal men who provide them with advice, support and follow-up, according to an academic study presented by social scientist Bassem al-Tawisi a few days ago. The study touched on the broad phenomenon of violence in the country’s universities.

Observers described the fights, which resulted in the suspension of classes in some universities, as “senseless brawls” in which light weapons, stones and firearms were used in the vicinity of several universities, according to security reports. These reports revealed that police forces fired tear gas to disperse the fighting parties.

A video by the [Public] Security Directorate showed pistols, sharp daggers and masked students carrying hoes involved in a fight that resulted in dozens of injuries.

These events drew the attention of the local media in all its forms. Political commentators and social experts saw Jordanian universities as having been turned into institutions “from which killers are being trained and intolerance and hatred exported.”

The rioting, which lasted for days, ended as tribal leaders signed a truce with authorities in order to calm the anger of the various parties.

Jordanian university violence is one of the most prominent escalating issues. National and official parties have tried to develop solutions, while civil society institutions blame the security services “for their ongoing interference in the universities’ affairs” in addition to the “prerequisites for students’ admission.”

The number of fights in the kingdom’s universities increased to 80 in 2012 from 61 in 2011 and 31 in 2010.

Jordan has 30 universities, including nine public universities, where violence is the highest.

The Al-Balqa Applied University (BAU) witnessed the death of a student in 2010, which led to a series of violence that swept the tribal city of Salt west of Amman. Students in opposition roles have always accused state agencies of turning educational institutions into a security matter  by appointing loyalists to head universities and their faculties.

Fakher Daas, an activist in charge of a students’ rights campaign, said there have been  40 major fights in universities this year. He said: “The state promotion of tribalism at the expense of partisanship and national interests has made things worse.”

Some believe that admitting a large number of students as exceptions to normal policy has boosted this phenomenon, and enabled any student to get into universities regardless of their high-school performance.

Jordanian Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Amin Mahmoud said: “The current events should not be tolerated,” and added: “We must overcome the disturbances taking place in our universities.”

The ongoing violence in the universities has raised concerns over the fate of the students. Bassima al-Omari said: “I impatiently look forward to see my son returning from the university. The deteriorating situation in our educational institutions has hit us in the face.”

Her son Moataz is a university professor of human science. … She said, “Fights have become normal among students. I believe that the reason is the lack of any measures to deter  students. For him, having connections solves problems, while punishment is not enough.”

According to a faculty member at the University of Yarmouk (north of Amman) who preferred to remain anonymous: “The deans of student-affairs offices and heads of universities believe that their role is to be a mediator among the tribes.  They bring an equal number of members from the fighting families, and let them sit face to face to reach an agreement.”

Muhammad abu Rumman, a researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, said: “The collapse of educational institutions is part of the glorification for sub-identities, proliferation of thuggery and arms, violation of the law and using the primitive affiliations as cover, which are experienced in the society. … All this is found in the universities, society and parliament.”

The recent parliamentary elections took place according to an electoral law that gives advantage to tribes at the expense of voters who have political leanings.

The parliament recently witnessed an incident  involving some tribal legislators where one tried to pull a gun on his opponents. Other legislators then successfully calmed the situation.

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