FANAR, Lebanon: In November, second-year journalism student Cynthia Bou Nader was held at gunpoint while she walked to her car after class at the Lebanese University’s Faculty of Information. “I have lived the horrible experience of being face-to-face with an armed person and now it’s happening again,” Bou Nader told The Daily Star.
Tuesday, an armed man on a motorcycle fired a series of shots toward the campus entrance in the eastern Beirut suburb of Fanar, narrowly missing public relations student Joelle Naddour.
Students described bullets whizzing over their heads and said the culprit sped away toward Zeaiterieh, a poor neighborhood located nearby.
“This time shootings have taken place and I think it’s time we stood united against this once and for all, because our lives are not a game in the hands of thugs,” Bou Nader said.
The student added that the man who pulled a gun on her seemed to be “high on drugs,” evident from the way he was shouting at her. “Hopefully security officers will respond to our demands this time,” she said.
Students attending the Fanar campus have increasingly become the victims of attacks, from incidents of verbal abuse to shootings targeting its journalism students.
Fed up with the situation, around 500 students rallied Thursday to call for what they consider a basic right in schools: security. Their protest came on the second day of a general strike called by students to demand government protection in the university.
Protesting the incident, students shouted slogans and held placards that read: “We have the right to learn and it’s the government’s duty to protect us” and “I’m not worth a bullet.”
The faculty's student committee said in a statement that the protest sought to pressure the government to improve security in the university.
A security source told The Daily Star that the investigation into the shooting incidents was ongoing but that an official complaint had not been filed. The identity of Tuesday’s shooter is still not known.
The faculty administration did not take part in the protest and refused to comment to media, but Dean George Sadaka told The Daily Star that students were making a mountain out of a molehill of the shooting incident.
“It’s the student’s right to protest but we think that the situation is not as tragic as students and the media are making it seem,” he said. “The building is located in an area with a large university complex, a school and an academy, so we ask not to make this issue bigger than it really is because we do not want to give families the wrong impression about our university.”
The president of the student body, Mestica Khoury, said numerous students showed up to the protest at 10 a.m. to stand up for their rights, despite their political differences. “Even the different political groups at the university were united today for the sake of our safety,” she said. “We are asking to have a checkpoint point near the Zeaiterieh neighborhood to protect students.”
“We will not wait for someone to die from random shootings to protest and ask for our basic right to learn in a secure environment,” Khoury said.
“Tomorrow [Friday] the students will continue their three-day protest and Monday a delegation of students will visit the school’s dean at his office in Tayyouneh to discuss what further measures need to be taken.”
Khoury added that this was not the first time a violent incident had occurred in the university.
“Unknown men frequently stand by the road next to the campus and verbally abuse students coming in and leaving the complex,” she said.
A visit to the campus by Metn district Qaimaqam Marlene Haddad lifted students’ spirits, Khoury said. She was accompanied by the area’s gendarmerie commander.
“They came and told us that they are going to work and wished us a good and peaceful spring semester,” Khoury said. “They were here personally to tell us that they will not give up on us but left without mentioning specific security measures to follow the incident.”
Sandra Ayoub, a journalism junior, said she was worried about the shootings around the campus, particularly when she walks to class from her dorms.
“We should take into consideration that there’s a very tight-knit school and a children’s playground right next to us,” she said.
One member of the students’ committee, Julien Zgheib, said: “Our demand is very clear: to have a checkpoint close to our campus in order to protect students who attend this school.”
For Zgheib, the goal of the protest was to send a message to the Internal Security Forces, the faculty dean and director, and the university president to say: “We can’t learn under the threat of arms and shootings.”
“What is happening is not acceptable,” Grecia Antoun, a second-year communications major, told The Daily Star.
“You know something is wrong when students are protesting in order to feel secure about going to university,” she said.
“We ask for cooperation from the faculty members, professors and the administration because it’s necessary at this point to speak up about this,” she added.
Zgheib said that shootings could ultimately lead to fatalities if the security measures are not implemented quickly.
Several students who spoke to The Daily Star recalled the death of an accused drug dealer killed by the security forces in the Zeaitrieh neighborhood. Mourad Zeaiter, a 20-year-old suspected drug dealer, died from his wounds on Feb. 6 after being shot by security forces in Fanar.
His family fired shots and launched rocket-propelled grenades from the neighborhood in retaliation.
“On the same day when Mourad Zeaiter was killed last month, gunfire was heard by students who were on campus and a stray bullet hit one of the building’s windows, damaging the school cafeteria,” Zgheib said.
Johnny Alam, a second-year student studying public relations, added: “As students we need to have more security present in our schools.”