Universities closed amid armed clashes in the capital

Universities in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, had to halt academic and administrative activities following heavy fighting between two rival armed groups, Al-Radaa Force and 444 Brigade, both linked to the government of national unity.

The ministry of higher education and scientific research said in a statement on 14 August that all activities in the higher education sector were suspended to ensure the safety of students and workers.

In response, the University of Tripoli issued a short statement to inform its students and academic community of the “suspension of studies, exams and administrative work from 15 to 19 August”.

Similarly, the Africa University for Humanities & Applied Sciences issued a statement on 15 August addressing students: “… we hope that everyone will adhere to the security and safety instructions and stay away from the places of clashes”, it read.

Proliferation of armed groups

Libya has been split into two since 2014, with opposing governments located in the eastern and western parts of the nation.

The Government of National Unity is based in Tripoli in the west, and its rival, known as the House of Representatives, is based in the east, in Tobruk.

Libya has been plagued by divisions fuelled by the proliferation of armed groups, with shifting allegiances since 2011 when long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown.

The armed groups linked to the Tripoli-based government include 444 Brigade. It is affiliated with Libya’s defence ministry that controls the southern suburbs of Tripoli as well as the cities of Tarhuna and Bani Walid and secures roads linking the capital to the south of the country.

The Al-Radaa Force is an ultra-conservative militia that acts as Tripoli’s police force, arresting both suspected jihadists and common criminals. It positions itself as independent of the interior and defence ministries, and it controls central and eastern Tripoli and Mitiga air base, the civilian airport, and a prison.

Impact on universities

Professor Ahmed Attia, the head of faculty affairs in the faculty of medical technology at the University of Tripoli in Libya, told University World News that the University of Tripoli is the largest and most affected university in the fighting that started on 14 August.

Plumes of smoke were seen in Tripoli and gunfire was heard in the densely populated suburb of Ain Zara before it spread to areas near the airport, Tripoli medical centre and Tripoli University, according to Crisis24, an integrated security risk management organisation.

A video clip was posted on the Facebook page of the faculty of medical technology of the University of Tripoli with footage saying: “A scene that sums up the bitterness of days. The university gate was once an expression of safety and knowledge. But today, it bears deep sadness after a devastating shell was fired by the deterrence force from inside the University of Tripoli. We feel pain and sadness for this painful event that affects our future and our safety. We pray for peace and security at all times.”

“Other Libyan universities and higher education institutions affected by the armed clashes are small private universities like the Africa University for Humanities and Applied Sciences, Alrefak University, the City University of Tripoli, previously known as Al-Manar University of Tripoli, and the Libyan Institute for Advanced Studies,” Attia added.

The faculty of medical technology of the University of Tripoli has also called upon its students and academic community to distribute the phone numbers of the Red Crescent Society to provide safe passage, ambulance and emergency units, emergency medicine and support centres for those who were stuck in the places of clashes.

Impact on university community

“Although I have not heard of any casualties from the fighting to students and academic communities, students get depressed and scared if they are interrupted many times and, also, the fighting today is inside the University of Tripoli with fighters being killed in front of the university gate,” Attia noted.

Video clips and a photo show fighting in front of and on the inside of the University of Tripoli as well as in the vicinity of Nasser Nations University, a branch of the University of Tripoli.

“Academic performance, as well as other research activities, is largely affected, due to frequent interruptions and facilities damage,” Attia pointed out.

This news report was updated on 16 August.