Democracy And Iraqi Universities Nancy

Democracy and Iraqi Universities

Nancy Youssef of Knight Ridder gives us an excellent piece on the democratic process and debates at Iraq’s universities. An excerpt:


‘ Students hold protests and sit-ins, sign petitions and go on marches, all new since Saddam Hussein fell. This week, a group of students from al Mustansiriya University protested Iraqi national guard officers using their dormitories, saying that space should be reserved for students.

The debates are steeped in religion. Most universities have only two major political student associations: a Shiite Muslim one and a Sunni Muslim one. Each group from Iraq’s historically rivalrous Islamic traditions is advocating a different style of university life, and how much religion should shape it.

Should women be forced to wear head scarves and should they be allowed to wear pants? Can students put up posters of their favorite candidates or would that offend others? Can a Shiite student be treated fairly at a school administrated by a Sunni president, and vice versa? . . .

At Baghdad University, students are debating whether women should be forced to wear uniforms: long gray skirts and white shirts. Last year, students largely tossed out the idea of a uniform. But when the school year began earlier this month, it appeared to make a comeback.

At al Mustansiriya, women are forbidden from wearing pants on the grounds. Guards monitor those entering the main gate, and any woman in pants who attempts to enter will be required to leave. ‘

Ash-Sharq al-Awsat reports a telephone interview with the interim Minister of Higher Education, Dr. Tahir al-Buka’. Iraq has 20 universities and more than 24 technical institutes, with a total population of enrolled students of 360,000, according to Dr. al-Buka’. He said that all the universities are up and running, including those in the Kurdish areas, with the sole exception of the university at Ramadi in Anbar province (a center of the Sunni Arab insurgency). The president of the university in Ramadi, Dr. Abdul Hadi al-Hiti, had been kidnapped and held hostage for 2 months before being released. He is recuperating at home, with a broken arm and a broken thigh. His family paid $100,000 for his release.

There are 16,500 instructors at these institutions of higher learning, but most of them only have Master’s degrees, not doctorates. Dr. al-Buka’ complained that this was a huge defect that he intended to remedy. Since the ministry does not have money to pay for Iraqi students to do Ph.D.s abroad, it is dependent on the scholarships offered Iraqi students by foreign universities.

Dr. al-Buka’ said that education through the Ph.D. in Iraq is free (this is common in petroleum producing countries).

He said security was the biggest problem his ministry faced, and that a large number of security guards had been placed on campuses.