by Dylan Hasan – Beirut
A peaceful demonstration by thousands of students in Beirut turned into a scene of violence after riot police and the army intervened.
Students gathered outside the American University of Beirut (AUB) on Bliss Street in Hamra on Saturday 19 December to demonstrate peacefully against the increase of tuition fees. Riot police responded with tear gas.
The demonstration was organised by secular groups at AUB (American University of Beirut) and LAU (Lebanese American University). More than two thousand students blocked Bliss Street, staging a protest against the recent hike in tuition fees after the AUB and LAU decided to price tuition based on an exchange rate of 3,900 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.
As the crowd of furious students marched down Hamra Street to the AUB’s main gate, they showed their anger towards the establishment and its president, shouting “Fadlo Khouri is a thief”.
The students gathered at 4pm and began their march at the Lebanese American University in Koraitem. They ended their march in front of AUB, right where the police started to react violently.
As the students reached the university’s gate and moved to enter the university to protest, they were met with beatings and tear gas. In an effort to disperse them, riot police and army personnel used tear gas on the students. They formed a human shield barrier to prevent students from approaching the gate. Students responded by throwing random objects at them.
Khodor Eido, a protestor, was a witness to the clash. “We started our march at LAU then reached AUB, where many police and riot forces were present”, he said. “As we approached them and some wanted to enter the gate, the police started beating us furiously… We in turn threw bottles and random things at them. The forces then used tear gas and beat us harder, so we were dispersed in the streets of Hamra”. Eido added, “Many angry students expressed their deep rage by breaking down bank facades and glass doors, but nothing else was damaged”.
According to local TV channel Al Jadeed, students are physically beaten with sticks, forcing the students to retreat to nearby streets.
In an email to students, LAU’s President Michel Mawad wrote that the university “has been severely impacted by the economic collapse and the Covid-19 pandemic”, leaving the administration with no other choice but to raise the tuition fees. Students from across Lebanon’s universities, including the Lebanese University, showed up to express solidarity with their peers at AUB and LAU.
For some students, the increase in tuition amid a crippling economic crisis is evidence of a wider system of corruption that could to halt their education and harm their future prospects.
The union of clubs and societies at AUB responded to President Fadlo Khuri’s latest statement: “We reject any attempts by the administration to downplay the seriousness of Saturday’s events. Students were gassed, beaten, and chased through the streets by heavily armed soldiers simply because they wanted to protest inside their university. This reeks of police state tactics and suppression of free speech.
“We are in the middle of a nationwide economic crisis as well as a pandemic. Who exactly are you protecting when you decide to increase the tuition by 162%? Does denying an entire generation the right to continue their education constitute protection? An institution cannot survive by sidestepping its purported mission to educate students while avoiding financial accountability and responsibility”.