Students have put themselves on the front lines of the struggle in countries in the Middle East and North Africa to rid the region of monarchies and strongmen who have ruled, in some cases, for decades. Inspired by uprisings for freedom in Tunisia and Egypt, young people are taking on repressive regimes in hopes that their countries can be free from tyranny.
Libya: Students, who participated in a movement that called for a "Day of Rage" on February 17, are seeing their friends killed by mercenaries that Leader Gaddafi has hired to protect him from losing power. In his rambling and incoherent speech on February 22, Gaddafi accused youth of taking “hallucinatory drugs” and destroying the country. He also compared the youth to “greasy rats and cats.”
Al Jazeera reported on February 17 that Libya was threatening to withdraw government scholarships from students studying in the United States if they didn’t attend pro-government rallies. Students told Al Jazeera they received phone calls from the Libyan Embassy explaining they would pay for plane tickets, hotel rooms and food if they took part and, if they didn’t, the government would move to cut all financial support.
At the London School of Economics, students have launched an occupation against the school’s ties to the Libyan regime.
Bahrain: Since Bahrainis held their “Day of Rage” on February 14, teachers have been encouraging students to go to Pearl Roundabout to camp out and protest King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. This cable released by WikiLeaks titled, “Bahrain’s Youth: Worried About Jobs, Skeptical of Political Authority and Open to America” offers a window into the grievances fueling young people in Bahrain.
Yemen: Without students, President Abu Abdullah Saleh would likely be facing a fairly insignificant uprising. Tom Finn, stringer for The Guardian who is in Yemen, reports University of Sanaa students have been holding an open-ended sit-in in front of the university for ten days. The students have also faced brutal violence as pro-Saleh “bullies” have been brutalizing activists late in the night despite a police presence there to keep students and others safe from attacks. Protests have escalated since the February 3 "Day of Rage."
Algeria: Outside the Ministry of Higher Education, thousands of students have been protesting and defying a ban on demonstrations. Since they participated in a “Day of Rage” on February 12 demanding President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s resignation, the students have been engaging in regular protests. And, although Bouteflika recently moved to rescind the 19-year state emergency law, which had banned public gatherings, the students intend to keep protesting until Bouteflika is out.
Sudan: Sudanese students, just as southern Sudan was in the process of finalizing its secession from the country, held their “Day of Rage” on January 30. Students at Khartoum University were beaten and tear gassed in their dormitories and one student died after being beaten by security forces.
Like other youth had done in Egypt and Tunisia, the students used Facebook to help organize the demonstrations. Oddly, President Omar Al-Bashir responded just over a week later with a call to his “supporters” to use Facebook to beat back any moves by activists who might seek to oppose his rule.
Iran: Opposition leaders Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who helped fuel a “Day of Rage” on February 14 that reignited the country’s “Green Opposition” movement and gave youth an opportunity to stand in solidarity with Egyptians and call for greater freedom in Iran. But, that day, two students, Sane Jaleh, a Kurdish student at the Art University of Tehran, and Mohammad Mokhtari, 22, were killed by regime forces at the demonstrations. Students like Nazi, a 22-year-old at Tehran University, were beaten up.
The violence, however, has only motivated youth to continue protesting. After February 14, Nazi told Berkeley Blog she was ready to be killed for her country and freedom.
Days later, protests and violence rage on.
Iraqi Kurdistan: For eight days, students have been protesting militia rule, corruption, poverty, lack of social justice and freedoms in Kurdistan. Students from Sulaimany College have been keeping this growing uprising alive by leaving classes in the afternoon and gathering in the center of the college to protest. The students, who have been shot at by security forces, managed to get the President of Sulaimany Ali Said to join the protest on the sixth day.
Morocco: Youth helped fuel calls for a February 20 “Day of Rage.” A video posted on YouTube featuring young people explaining why they would be joining demonstrations gives a good sense of what’s at stake.
The leader of the April 6 Youth Movement Asmaa Mahfouz is largely believed to have started the uprising in Egypt by calling for demonstrations on January 25 with this video. In spite of a media blackout, young people helped sustain the Tunisia uprising through tweets and Facebook updates and street protests.
The next leader to be toppled will fall because of the desire of students and youth to win a better future.