Outrage over the killing of another female student

Egyptian public prosecution authorities have opened an investigation into the murder of another female student, allegedly by her male friend, in the city of Zagazig.

The 20-year-old student, Salma Bahgat, was stabbed several times, allegedly by 22-year-old Islam Mohamed, according to a statement by the Egyptian public prosecution on 9 August. The suspect has been arrested and questioned by the prosecution.

A video of the incident, at the entrance to a building in the city of Zagazig, has circulated on social media.

According to local news reports, Mohamed, who studied mass communication at Shorouk Academy, was in love with Bahgat, a fellow student, but then killed her after she ended their relationship.

Social media users have released hashtags calling for justice for the victim and the toughest possible sentence for the suspect.

The incident follows less than two months after the violent killing of Nayra Ashraf by her boyfriend at the gates of the Mansoura University in Egypt, reportedly for refusing his marriage proposal. Mohamed Adel, Ashraf’s murderer, was sentenced to death on 6 July.

Only three days after Ashraf’s killing, a 21-year-old Jordanian nursing student, Iman Rashid, died on the campus of the Applied Science Private University in Amman after the perpetrator shot her six times in the head. The 37-year-old Uday Khaled Abdullah Hassan died after shooting himself as security personnel surrounded him.

Questions that need answers

Professor Ahmed El-Gohary, the former president of the Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology, or E-JUST, described the second murder, so soon after the previous incident, to University World News as a “traumatic incident” for Egyptian society.

“For sure, the Egyptian community is not accustomed to seeing this type of incident among higher education students,” El-Gohary said.

He raised several questions: “… why and how have such incidents started to appear? Are they the outcome of pressure? Is there a lack of confidence in the future, a lack of social emotional intelligence skills, a lack of focus on the soft skills in general?

“Do we need to make our curricula more practical to include conflict resolution, negotiation skills, and so on? Are school teachers and, later on, university professors, really fulfilling their mandate to equip students with the needed conceptual understanding, practical competences and applicable skills to be able to deal with the life challenges students face even before their graduation?

“Such questions should be urgently tackled by our expert sociologists for deep analysis to provide clues to help university leaders find solutions to stop this wave of anger and violence, soon,” said El-Gohary.

Psychologically and emotionally stable graduates

Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid, a professor at Cairo’s National Research Centre, echoed El-Gohary’s comment and called for interventions.

He told University World News: “The gender-based killings of three female university students … have sent shockwaves through Egypt, Jordan, and the wider region and have sparked conversation about the role of universities and higher education institutions amid instances of sexual harassment, domestic violence and misogyny across the Middle East and North Africa region.

“Universities must offer the necessary training programmes and services to produce psychologically and emotionally stable graduates to protect them from self-harm, isolation, depression and suicidal attempts and equip them with problem-solving behaviour,” said Abdelhamid.

“Universities as agents of change must bring changes in the socio-cultural system of society,” declared Abdelhamid.

Abdelhamid’s view is supported by a 2020 Egyptian study ‘Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Stability in Crises’, which indicated that emotionally intelligent people are more emotionally stable and are capable of facing human crises.

Transform culture

Expanding further, Dr Birgit Schreiber, the senior associate for Universities South Africa’s Higher Education Leadership and Management programme, or HELM, told University World News that universities in Africa must launch programmes for equipping students with soft skills such as social-emotional intelligence skills, especially for male students who are frequently the perpetrators of this kind of violence.

“Male students are often in need of managing their behaviour. Often, they have learned from a brutal community and often in abusive families, and the perpetrators are most often deeply damaged people and need to get help and change behaviours and attitudes in regard to women and gender issues,” added Schreiber, who is also the vice president of the International Association of Student Affairs and Services (IASAS).

“Gender-based violence is most often premised on cultures that enable this kind of violence. It starts with cat-calling and sexist jokes, and proceeds to objectification and dominance over women, to practices that are cruel and brutal towards women, denying them certain rights and considering them to be property that needs leading and managing,” Schreiber said.

“We need to address these issues at all levels,” she said, adding that sexist behaviour and attitudes have to be challenged and violence should be dealt with appropriately.

“We also need to address these issues with all stakeholders: universities, religious institutions, political parties – everyone needs to speak up and against this kind of dehumanising gender-based violence – it is a shame to the culture and country in which it occurs,” said Schreiber, who is also a member of the Africa Centre for Transregional Research, University of Freiburg, Germany.

“While the perpetrators need to be dealt with swiftly and clearly, we all need to examine the kinds of practices, attitudes and beliefs that enable such gender-based violence,” she said.

Schreiber’s view is also mirrored in the October 2020 study entitled ‘Understanding domestic violence: masculinity, culture, traditions’ which looks at domestic violence and patriarchal cultural norms.