On December 19, 2020, security guards reportedly clashed with student protesters at the American University of Beirut (AUB).
Dubbed “Student Rage Day,” the protests began in the city of Hamra in response to decisions by authorities at the AUB and Lebanese American University to adjust their own exchange rates at 3,900 Lebanese pounds to the dollar — a sharp rise from the official rate of 1,500 pounds to the dollar. The change to the exchange rate resulted in a major increase in tuition. Protesters expressed concern that the decision could drive up the price of higher education in general, with catastrophic effects in a country already suffering a grave financial crisis.
According to reports, riot police fired tear gas at student protesters as they approached AUB’s entrance, in an effort to disperse them. Some students reportedly responded by throwing objects at police. That evening, some protesters set fire to garbage cans, blocked traffic, and vandalized banks before security officials again fired tear gas in an effort to disperse them.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of violent force by police and demonstrators during a protest. While state authorities have a right to ensure public order, they are obligated to refrain from restricting the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, to ensure the security of higher education communities, and to refrain from violent or disproportionate actions in response to protest activity. Likewise, while students and other protesters have a right to freedom of expression and assembly, they have an obligation to exercise those rights peacefully and responsibly. Violence in the course of student protests threatens academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society in general.