Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Wed, Sep 2nd, 2015

Terrorism at the University

The keystone to meaningful education has always been and always will be based on academic freedom. If professors and students are deprived of the opportunity to think critically, it is a victory only for authoritarian propaganda.


The Political Science professors at the Sana’a University arrested by the Houthis (source: Ajial Magazine).

In the now fading Arab Spring a major stimulus for the protests that brought down dictators came from university students, including women. The hope that filled that spring air and Sanaa’s streets a few years ago has now been polluted almost everywhere, including Yemen. Ali Abdullah Salih was fond of saying that ruling Yemen was like dancing on the heads of snakes. Now those snakes of all stripes are swarming throughout Yemen and biting each other in a fit of utter madness. None of these are garden-variety and the snake-pit that Yemen has been reduced to is one in which no one is immune. The bombing campaign and the ground fighting on all sides have created an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. The poison has even spread to the university.

Last week professors and students at Sana’a University held a peaceful protest on campus calling for the release of Dr. Abd al-Majid al-Mikhlafi, who was arrested and not charged by the Houthis four months ago. Although attempts have been made to resolve the abduction legally, the entire legal structure of the state has basically been shut down. Many of the protesting students and professors were humiliated and beaten, some severely.

Among the professors arrested for daring to protest on their own campus were Dr. Muhammad al-Zahiri, President of the faculty and Political Science Professor, Dr.  Abdullah al-Faqih, Dr. Ali Saif Kulayb and Dr. Adnan al-Maqtari. This is not the first time the Houthis have stormed the university and arrested faculty and students. Nor is it the first attack on voices calling for peace in Yemen; Dr. Muhammad Abd al-Malik al-Mutawakkil, who taught in the university, was gunned down earlier this year.

Whatever the original intentions of the Houthi movement were, and it is clear that they suffered along with the whole region around Sa’da due to the wars against them by former President Salih, they have shown an inability to govern or control their own supporters. The failure to negotiate with other factions has led to a disaster on all levels. Compounding the problem is the presence of Salih and the troops loyal to him, who persevere in a vain attempt to regain control of Yemen.


Statue at Sana’a University.

The destruction of property and infrastructure in addition to the loss of life has reduced Yemen to rubble in many places. What exactly do the various factions think they are fighting for if there is such destruction? The fighting, sadly, has become an end in itself. Aden might as well be Dresden. Al Mukalla is now under al-Qaeda rule and ISIS is making inroads in the lawless areas of the south. The residents of Sana’a fear a house-to-house battle there. Attacking students and professors at the university is a telling act of cowardice on the part of those who are calling themselves Houthis. No matter the grievances over past wrongs, engaging in terror tactics only makes matters worse.

If tomorrow’s leaders in Yemen do not come from the university, if sane voices to put a fractured Yemen back together are silenced and if students are beaten for daring to express their opinions, the future will be grim indeed.

Unfortunately, much of the world is turning a blind eye to the suffering in Yemen. I could find no news reports in English by a major source on this attack at the university. While the missiles rain down on Yemen’s citizens and made-in-the-USA machine guns rip bullets through fellow Yemenis, the pens of journalists outside Yemen are dry. For shame.

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

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