Despite the Syrian regime’s relentless attempts to quash the protests calling for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad, university students have been one group that has managed to stand up to the brutality of security forces and keep fighting despite the daily killing of unarmed civilians.
“Students are playing a major role in the Syrian revolution, for they are among the echelons of society that suffer the most from the repression of the regime,” Suleiman, a third year student in the University of Damascus the English Department, told AlArabiya.net.
Suleiman, who witnessed the invasion of the university hostel grounds by security forces and regime thugs, explained that a large number of youths and university graduates are marginalized and discriminated against when it comes to finding a job if they are not loyal to the regime.
“That is why students found in the revolution an opportunity to get rid of corruption and repression.”
However, he added, when students in Damascus started protesting at night in the hostels, they did not expect the reaction of the regime to be as brutal as it was.
“The regime recruited some students to tell on their colleagues who take part in the protests, and based on this information they stormed the hostels,” he said.
Suleiman recounted that at the time of the attack there was a power outage in all the hostel grounds, followed by random shooting.
“They stormed the rooms and arrested hundreds of students after stealing many of the students’ belongings and smashing their computers and cell phones. They also beat students brutally.”
Since that time, Suleiman said, students have been living in constant fear, but they have not given up.
For Khaled, a science student at the University of Damascus, the revolution is not restricted to specific groups, yet university students are a very important part of the protests.
“It is difficult to have a revolution without the contribution of students, and that is why it was important that students take to the streets and demand a democratic change as well as condemn the killing of civilians at the hands of security forces and thugs,” he said.
Khaled, who was arrested and released only after signing a statement swearing that he will no longer take part in protests, expressed his frustration at seeing the sanctity of the university campus violated.
“Gangs of the regime know nothing about the value of education and the importance of respecting educational institutions. They used live ammunition on campus and a science student got killed.”
Khaled explained that those attacks aimed at putting pressure on the university administration to prevent students from protesting.
“The administration did cave in when it issued a series of laws that ban protests and when it dismissed dozens of students who took part in protests while referring many other to the disciplinary committee.”
Khaled added that several students, particularly members of the loyalist Students Union, were recruited to spy on their colleagues.
“The university campus turned into a military barracks and students were harassed by regime loyalists. Any gathering was treated as an attempt at inciting anti-regime demonstrations. It has becomes dangerous to be on campus now.”
Hoda, a second year economics students, said that when she and her colleagues decided to start a sit-in to demand the release of detained students, security forces reacted very violently.
“The sit-in was very civilized. We were not more than 100 people. A few minutes had passed before we saw more than 200 armed people in civilian clothes,” she told Al Arabiya.net.
“They surrounded us and started arresting many students and confiscated their mobile phones. When one of the professors tried to interfere they beat him and threatened to arrest him if he didn’t go away.”
Sami, who lives in the Aleppo University hostel, said that many students are now afraid of taking part in protests because of thugs and security forces on campu, in addition to spies among the students.
“The number of students in the pro-regime Student Union is sometimes more than the total number of university students,” he told AlArabiya.net.
Sami explained that the problem with university campuses in Aleppo and other Syrian cities is that they are located in downtown areas and are surrounded by high fences.
“This makes it very hard for us to run away or hide from security forces. Protesting, therefore, automatically means getting arrested, beaten up, and even killed. In the hostel, they already killed four students.”
Sami added that many of those students who are now worried to take part in protests on campus are now demonstrating in the streets.
Feras, a law student at the University of Homs, said that the regime assumes that by crushing campus protests and killing students it will be able to end the revolution and stay in power.
“If they managed to make students stay away from campuses, they could not prevent them from taking their protests to the streets or to social networking websites. The Facebook page called ‘The university students’ uprising’ is a good example of off-campus resistance.”
Some students also began writing songs about the revolution. A group of students that calls itself Days of Freedom wrote a song called “At the Faculty.”
In this song, they sing about students who no longer go to lectures because they are busy spying on their colleagues. They also sing about the way their protests were crushed at the university.
“We were only five or six, then thousands attacked us. We were squashed,” they sang.
The song ends in a determined tone and stresses that resistance will continue: “We are telling the whole world that we are not afraid and that we will get rid of this era of slavery.”
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)