Over the past few years, higher education has been a frequent casualty of the violent conflicts sweeping the Middle East. Campuses have been bombed in Syria, Gaza and now Yemen; occupied or closed in Libya and Iraq; and been the subject of severe police crackdowns across the region. What institutional measures can both regional entities and international bodies take to protect institutions of higher learning in the Arab world? Beyond this, how can strategies of protection be incorporated into programs of reconstruction and development for this much-maligned sector?
Sultan Barakat and Sansom Milton, in a new Brookings Doha Center Policy Briefing, contend that higher education is often an unrecognized casualty of these conflicts, with priority given to more pressing humanitarian needs. They assert that the protection and rebuilding of such institutions across the Middle East forms a crucial response to present concerns, helping to shelter and develop strategically vital youth populations. Crucially, they hold that an action plan for higher education in the Arab world cannot end at rebuilding shattered classrooms or rescuing individual scholars.
Ultimately, Barakat and Milton argue for a regional approach to defending and advancing higher education, as a key tool to combat violent extremism, address economic challenges, and encourage social stability. A strategy of “building back better” would allow higher education to serve as an engine for regional revitalization, living up to the historical example set by the region’s centuries-old institutions of higher learning.