What It's Like to Go to University in a War Zone
Photo by Ahmed Abu Draa


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What It's Like to Go to University in a War Zone

"We've had to perform the absentee funeral prayer three times last year in honor of killed classmates. It never seems to end."

Every day, university students in North Sinai, a province in north-eastern Egypt, have to deal with

the sounds of gunfire, heavy-handed police checkpoints and the constant threat of bombings just to get to their lectures.

The province is home to approximately 100,000 students split across two universities – the government-owned Suez Canal University and the privately owned Sinai University. Many students from cities nearby choose to study in the area simply because there aren't a whole load of options for higher education in the wider region.


Over the past six years, ISIS-affiliated fighters have escalated their attacks against the Egyptian military, often right in the heart of Sinai. The terror group's operations here began in 2011 with the systematic bombing of oil pipelines that pass through the area into Jordan and Israel. In May of 2012, ISIS started directly targeting the military. As a result of those attacks and the army's counter-strikes, hundreds of locals were killed and thousands displaced.

does not stop, those who do not die during the clashes with bullets. "

خلود طالبة بكلية الإعلام في جامعة سيناء

Khuloud talks about what she describes as "the journey of suffering" in reference to travel from her quiet city to Sinai: "Most university students are expatriates, they are bent at checkpoints. She explains that she is a girl who cuts all this distance in the most tense areas of the country for science, and that she is not a terrorist to treat this way every time, which she has to reduce her travel times every semester to be once a month or every two months to avoid travel hardship and harassment.

"On the day of the return to Sinai, I will move at 6 am to get to the ferry that connects the two parts of the Suez Canal before noon and wait at least 3 hours to cross the eastern bank of the canal," she said. He describes the repeated situation in the security checkpoints by saying: "waste time and waste, the suitcase is full of each ambush in full and the collection of contents to be devoted to Tani in the ambush that follows."


"All the people are fearful and helpless, the situation is scary all over the country, with armored vehicles on most streets, explosions and gunfire all the time," Khuloud recounts the details of a traditional Sinai day. She adds that the fires of war hit their university headquarters two years ago in a terrorist bombing that left its traces on its main building and a number of sub-buildings. "She describes what she feels about the situation:" She is briefly the feelings of a girl meeting masked gunmen waving black flags at the first street where you live, The killing of two policemen in broad daylight at the end. "

رقية طالبة في كلية الإعلام بجامعة سيناء

"The problem of disconnecting communications is what bothers me most: my studies rely heavily on the Internet, and for security reasons, communication networks and the Internet are cut off during military operations," says Rokaya, 21, a student at the university's media college. Or as a result of the damage to its infrastructure as a result of the terrorist bombings, which doubles the concern of my family at a time until the networks return to be able to reassure me. "We are relying on letters sent to reassure our families, and there are students who ask taxi drivers going out of Sinai to contact their families to reassure them as soon as they are out of the cut-off zone." "I mean if I have a need, my parents can know it after two days."

We have turned to our families before going to the university as if they were soldiers on their way to a battlefield. It does not end up returning us to our homes in peace; the nightmares haunt us


"As students of media, our study is related to the practical aspect of the production of newspaper or television stories, but in the Sinai it is impossible to go out to the street with a camera," Rukaya said of the other difficulties related to the security situation in the Sinai. "We have been so isolated from the world that we know the news of our friends who have died in the terrorist operations in a few days," she said. "We are giving farewell to our families before going to the university as if they were soldiers on their way to a war field. It does not end up returning us to our homes in peace; the nightmares haunt us. There is no one among my colleagues at the university who did not suffer the consequences of the shock of the situation in the Sinai. The events left a sad mark on all of us. "

It was not the same with Justina, a 22-year-old student at the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Sinai, who said she had lost a number of friends in terrorist attacks. Mohammed Rashid, an engineering student and his sister Ala, a pharmacist student, who were killed in a roadside bomb explosion, as well as fellow students and friends who were arrested on suspicion, remember them. "The security officers checked my papers and then decided to hold me, even though I was presenting my university card," Alaa said, referring to the experience of his arrest at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Al-Arish during his visit to the university.


يوستينا طالبة بكلية الصيدلة بجامعة سيناء

Alaa describes a 20-year-old pseudonym as an unforgettable experience. And then handed him over to a security force who took him to the city of Ismailia, to the opposite direction of the university, to spend two nights without a means of communication with his family, which he feared, before he was released without any introductions or clarification of the reasons. Despite the exposure of the young pharmacy student, he finds himself lucky because of what he calls the "happy ending" of the accident. It often costs more than two nights.

The consequences of the security situation in North Sinai are not limited to expatriate students from the city, especially during travel and transportation, but also to thousands of students from the region's local population, with varying risks and harassment. They are more likely to be arrested and detained. The security forces have been charged with carrying identification papers indicating their affiliation to the area. What they associate with the title of "Sinaawi", which refers to the local population in the area, is a "potential suspect" until proven otherwise.

طلاب كلية الإعلام بجامعة سيناء خلال عملهم على مشروع عملي داخل الحرم الجامعي بسبب الأوضاع الأمنية

Jamal al-Din, a 22-year-old Kuwaiti student studying at the University of Sinai, is also distressed by the security situation and the frequent interruptions of communications. He is unable to pay the money received from his family in Kuwait every month because of network disruptions. The break continues for several days.


The difficulty of disbursing remittances is of importance to the Kuwaiti expatriate student, but it is not his biggest concern, but to maintaining his security and personal safety in a city that is living under a renewed decision to ban roaming, so he eases his exit to the street. Student accommodation is attached to the university, or goes out to nearby places and early in the day. Faced with the boredom of this and the constant state of tension he is experiencing, Gamaluddin himself owes himself to the fact that he is about to receive his university degree in an exceptional circumstance like that of Sinai now, in a practical and humanitarian experience that he sees as the most important in his life. On all odds, Jamal al-Din appreciates the experience of being close to his Egyptian colleagues who spare no effort to provide him with protection, even with advice, as well as their attempts to help him entertain himself and spend time during the hours of siege.

For security reasons, I can not go home every day, so I have to stay in the university town, although it usually takes only 30 minutes

The situation is different for girls from the Sinai, as they are provided with the hassle of traveling, but it does not mean they are out of trouble. On the contrary, the daily movement crisis of their residences represents a crisis that is not felt by the expatriate students. The students' residences are close to the university's headquarters, while their fellow residents of Al-Arish and surrounding areas remain subject to a long list of possibilities that are proportional to the distance from the university's headquarters. The possibility of occurring day after day, because of the intensification of armed confrontations between the Egyptian security forces and terrorist elements, which expanded the scope of recent targeting civilians, without distinction, and deliberately.


To reduce risk, some students, especially girls, go to student housing or university to spend one or two days a week with their families. "For security reasons, I can not go home every day, so I had to stay in the university to stay the whole week away from my family, although the distance does not last more than 30," said Asma, 20, a student at the Faculty of Education at Al-Arish University. Minutes in normal circumstances. "

سيارة عسكرية تمشط المنطقة المحيطة بجامعة سيناء في دورية روتينية

Asma confirmed that it was not easy at first, but she did not have another option for what she would spend a day on the way to the university and return from it daily. "We were waiting for long hours at security checkpoints on our way, and often we had to get out of the car and complete the remaining distance on foot." Despite the precautionary measures that have become part of the daily routine of university students in the Sinai, the hand of terrorism is closer to them, after the bombing of the main building of the University of Sinai, and the injury of dozens of students in the incident targeting a checkpoint (fire station) adjacent to the buildings designated for student housing several months ago, To the recurrence of violent clashes near the headquarters of different universities and colleges.

The university professors do not differ much from their students, who share the daily suffering and the dangers of the situation. "We all suffer the same suffering, teachers and students," says Amal Nasr El Din, head of the English department at the University of Sinai, "with the difference of responsibility. In addition to securing ourselves and ensuring that our work is performed in such circumstances, we ensure our students are safe and secure. , Although our ability to do so is at stake, as the intensity of terrorist operations, and expand to reach most parts of the province of North Sinai. " "A number of my students have been killed since 2014. Abushimit may have been the last of them, but according to the facts of the events, it will not be the last," Nasruddin concluded by referring to Mohammed Abu Hashmeet, the last of her students she lost during an incident targeting the al-Rawda mosque in Bir al-Abed.

This article originally appeared on VICE AR.