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Jumblatt: Universities must stay separate from politics
File - PSP leader Walid Jumblatt is seen in Beirut, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)
File - PSP leader Walid Jumblatt is seen in Beirut, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)
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BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt warned Monday against transforming universities into “political barricades” that would stoke sectarian tensions among students.

He also called for universities to be kept separate from the deepening political divisions gripping the country as a result of the conflict in neighboring Syria.

“In light of the vertical political split among the Lebanese which is deepening as a result of the policy of total boycott, rejection of dialogue and sticking to one’s opinion, some events have occurred,” Jumblatt said in his weekly op-ed published by the PSP’s online Al-Anbaa newspaper.

They carry with them “a lot of negative connotations that reflect the infiltration of this divisionist climate into all the social, union, teaching and academic structures,” he wrote. “The latest of these events was what happened at Universite St. Joseph’s campus in Beirut.”

The PSP chief stressed the need to maintain “freedom of political activity” at universities, saying this would consecrate the “culture of democracy” among the youth.

“But transforming universities from an education building into political barricades that put up barriers among the students and create tensions is rejected because this would shift the students’ attention toward tendencies that are different from the causes for which they go to universities,” he said.

USJ last week suspended classes following several confrontations between students from Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces on campus, which led to the Army and security forces being called to restore calm. No injuries were reported.

The original fight appeared to have started when some students drew the name of Habib Chartouni, the man who assassinated President-elect Bashir Gemayel, with a heart under it on a wall facing the university.

March 14 students blamed Hezbollah students for the drawing, sparking a minor scuffle between a supporter of the party and a member of the LF.

Following the incident at USJ, Jumblatt underlined the need to keep universities apart from the country’s political divisions and prevent transforming them into “political platforms” used to serve the interest of parties.

“This can be achieved solely through a reconfirmation of diversity inside universities and adherence to their laws and exercising political activity under the ceiling of these laws in a democratic spirit away from provocation, intimidation or isolation,” he said.

Jumblatt also used his op-ed to criticize the uproar after the government transferred prisoners affiliated with Sidon’s fugitive Salafist Sheikh Ahmad Assir from the Rihanieh detention facility to cells in the Jezzine Serail in south Lebanon.

“With the uproar raised over transferring some people arrested in the case of Assir from one prison to another, the current miserable situation of prisons is no longer acceptable. Even a prisoner has rights. This is applied in all world states which view prisons as a rehabilitation center in the first place before being a center to detain a convict so that he can draw lessons from his mistakes,” Jumblatt said.

He called for the problem of overcrowding in prisons to be solved by implementing projects to expand or repair prisons.

On Nov. 15, 20 of Assir’s detained supporters were moved from Mount Lebanon to a prison in the southern town of Jezzine. More detainees are expected to join them after security personnel finish interrogations.

But their presence next to the municipal offices has raised anxieties among locals, security sources told The Daily Star. Residents and politicians are arguing that the prisoners don’t belong in Jezzine, where cell conditions are more comfortable than in Rihanieh.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 03, 2013, on page 4.
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