Libyan universities should advance democracy education

Libyan universities and higher education institutions should encourage students to vote as a pathway to peace and democracy.

This was the main message of an academic forum held at the University of Gharyan earlier in September on the role of universities and higher education institutions in supporting elections in Libya, expected to be held at the end of 2022.

The November 2021 study, ‘The Role of Universities in Society Service in Extraordinary Unstable Conditions – Libya as a case study’ has pointed at the poor contribution of Libyan universities in addressing democratic transformation and engagement along with promoting political awareness among academic and student communities.

Other research, such as that presented at the forum by Dr Hamedah Saleh of Misurata University in Libya, suggests that universities are the ideal space for societal dialogue and producing a politically informed and engaged youth sector.

Libya has a young population with about 15% of its population of an estimated 7 million citizens aged between 15 and 24.

The Arab Barometer shows that 70% of university-educated Libyans believe that “democracy remains the best system of governance”, according to a July 2022 report entitled, Democracy in the Middle East and North Africa.

Politically informed and engaged youth

The report agitates for Libyan universities to prepare programmes that include a range of objectives and activities from skills-training and capacity-building for political participation and reconciliation to the provision of psychosocial support and protection to rights-based education and advocacy for post-conflict political participation.

The report calls upon universities to run a comprehensive civic and voter education campaign to improve Libyan students’ knowledge about elections as well as to encourage them to register for voting and participate in local elections.

It also called upon universities to hold workshops, forums, and conferences to strengthen the Libyan democratic process by raising awareness of the significance of electoral processes among voters and increasing their participation in elections.

This is in line with a 2018 study entitled, ‘The Libyan Youth Today: Opportunities and Challenges’ which called for “the development of social and cultural awareness of all youth segments, [to heighten] their awareness of the concepts of state, citizen, citizenship, rights, duties, freedom and democracy”.

Professor Ahmed Attia, the head of faculty affairs at the Faculty of Medical Technology at the University of Tripoli, told University World News: “Making a university community, including students, staff and employees, politically aware and participating in politics and election are essential determinants of Libyan society’s democratic survival, especially with the coming of the long-awaited presidential election”.

Attia said Libyan university staff could act as democracy and election facilitators. “Based on their scientific background, faculty members can aid in promoting peace through their knowledge and experience.”

Political education

Dr Kazeem Ajasa Badaru from the University of Fort Hare’s East London Campus in South Africa told University World News that Libyan universities should engage their communities in campaigns for political education and to increase the awareness and participation of Libyans in democracy.

“One way to achieve this is by engaging students and lecturers in public discourse and-or debate on the benefits of enthroning and participating in genuine democratic governance.

“Another way is to engage media organisations by frequently sensitising the public on the need to give democratic governance a chance in Libya for the country to return to the path of peace and development.

“The university curriculum may have to be reviewed for the inclusion of political education as a general module for undergraduate students to increase their level of political consciousness and participation in the country’s democratic activities, especially during the electioneering period,” Badaru, who has done research about political education and students’ political participation, suggested.

He is the lead author of a September 2021 study entitled, ‘The Political Awareness and Participation of University Students in Post-apartheid South Africa’.

He said universities and key leaders of the campaign for democracy should never relent or become intimidated by resistance and opposition from anti-democratic elements.

“Universities can also work with civil society groups to ensure that their campaigns gain ground nationally and internationally,” he said.