AUB president says liberal Arab thought at risk amid Lebanon’s coronavirus, financial crises

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Fadlo Khuri, President of the American Univeristy of Beirut (Supplied)
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Updated 12 May 2020

AUB president says liberal Arab thought at risk amid Lebanon’s coronavirus, financial crises

  • Sacrifices will have to be made for American University of Beirut to survive crisis, warns President Fadlo Khuri
  • Khuri does not envision distance education, the new global norm, exclusively as a long-term solution

DUBAI: The evolution of modern liberal Arab thought will be seriously at risk if the American University of Beirut (AUB) is unable to withstand the combined impact of Lebanon’s economic meltdown and the coronavirus pandemic.

The grim warning was sounded by none other than the AUB’s president, Dr. Fadlo Khuri, in an exclusive interview from Beirut with Arab News via Zoom.

One of the Arab world’s oldest universities, the AUB is facing its most serious crisis since its foundation, suffering massive losses and forced to cut staff.

The AUB has produced leading regional figures in medicine, law, science and art as well as political leaders and scholars over the decades including prime ministers.

“There’s nothing like us,” Khuri said. “There is no (similar) liberal arts institution that really brings the full impact of Western liberal thought that’s also open to Eastern thought, like AUB.”

A total of 63 percent of top-tier impact publications come from the AUB. “So, it’s critical that AUB not only survives, but thrives in the region,” he said.

“Otherwise, the region and the evolution of modern liberal Arab thought will be seriously at risk.”

Khuri described the current situation as a perfect storm with social, economic and political aspects.

“Temporary sacrifices will have to be made as the implosion of Lebanon’s economy poses a fundamental challenge,” he said.

“Lebanon has been living beyond its means as a country for a while and we’ve been concerned about this. Post-war, this wasn’t addressed,” Khuri said.

In these trying times, funds are critical, he said, adding that the AUB has so far received a $2.5 million grant from the US government to offset the problems in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

Much of it will be used for the university and the rest will be distributed to private hospitals, he told Arab News.

Meanwhile, more than 300 of AUB’s alumni have come to the rescue after an appeal for funds was made, providing over $60,000.

“Our community has been, and will continue to be, generous but at some point, we need federal assistance from the two governments,” he said.

However, the Lebanese government has not yet come forward with any help, unlike during the civil war in 1975, when it provided 18 million Lebanese pounds in assistance that saved the university from closing.

“We’re in a much better financial situation now but the Lebanese government owes us a lot of money and they have not paid it,” Khuri said, adding that more than $150 million is owed to the AUBMC (the American University of Beirut Medical Center).

Khuri said he had no doubt that the institution will survive the pandemic and flourish for another 154 years and beyond, noting that it has withstood immense pressures in its storied history.

“They blew up the College Hall building and AUB survived,” he said. “A president was killed, and another kidnapped, and AUB survived. So unequivocally, AUB will survive.”

The question, according to him, is that having survived, what type of an AUB would emerge.

“For 30 years, we have built a remarkable, gifted and effective research faculty and mission along with teaching services,” he said.

“Now, Lebanon is collapsing economically, and the world is entering into probably the deepest recession and the first true depression since the late 1920s-early 1930s.”

Despite the looming challenges, the university strives to be a good role model and a good global and local citizen and as such, long-term steps, to do with restructuring and becoming more efficient, have to be taken, he said.

The American University of Beirut is one of the oldest universities in the Arab World (Courtsey of AUB)

New reports have scrutinized the viability of AUB’s graduate programs and whether they serve their long-term purpose and produce citizen leaders for the region.

There are 96 different nationalities currently in the university’s programs. “We have to look at whether we are inclusive, egalitarian and empowering enough [while] educating them,” Khuri said.

The Arab world and the whole region have never needed AUB to thrive more than it has till today, since its founding and the first world war, Khuri told Arab News.

Although distance learning has become the global norm, Khuri does not envision it exclusively as a long-term solution.

“Long-term, higher education has to evolve, much more quickly than it has, so it encapsulates instructional, experiential and distance learning,” he said.

“It’s got to be a blend of all three.”

Looking to the future, he cannot envisage an Arab world without AUB at its heart.

“Even now, no institution contributes more high-quality research per faculty member than AUB,” Khuri said.

“AUB is … the Arab world’s landmark, a top-quality liberal arts research university, and it is in all of our interests that this institution thrives.”

Flash floods in southern Yemen kill five, displace hundreds

Updated 41 min 38 sec ago

Flash floods in southern Yemen kill five, displace hundreds

  • Five shepherds in the Henan valley were swept away as floods hit farms

AL-MUKALLA: Heavy rains and flash floods hit provinces in southern Yemen on Wednesday and Thursday, killing five people, displacing hundreds of families and isolating villages, local government officials told Arab News.

The heavy rain that began on Wednesday in Yemen's southern province of Hadramout triggered flash floods that killed five shepherds in the Henan valley and damaged farms.

“The five young men went to the valley to bring back their camels and sheep before floods washed them away,” Hesham Al-Souaidi, a local government official, told Arab News by telephone on Thursday.

Local authorities and residents found three bodies and are still searching for the other two.

Al-Souaidi said that flood waters destroyed farms and killed a large number of livestock in the agricultural Wadi Hadramout.

Southern Yemeni provinces have been bracing for the tropical depression since Saturday, when it hit Oman’s southern city of Salalah, as the country’s National Meteorological Center issued alerts, urging Yemenis to avoid traveling during the the storm and to avoid flood courses.

In coastal parts of Hadramout, hundreds of families living near flood channels were forced to flee to after flooding reached unprecedented levels.

Amen Barezaeg, a local government official assigned by the Hadramout governor to lead a relief committee, told Arab News that his team has documented the displacement of 450 families from Mayfa Hajer district alone, adding that the floods damaged roads, farms and isolated many remote areas in the province.

“We are now working on reopening roads to reach the isolated villages. The damage is huge,” he said.

Flash floods displaced dozens of families, washed away hundreds of palm trees and damaged dozens of houses in Hajr town, west of the city of Al-Mukalla, Hadramout province capital.

In some areas of Hadramout, residents said the floods were more destructive than those caused by cyclones over the last five years.

“We have never seen floods like this. Only the floods in 1996 were as strong as these,” Mohammed Bahamel, a journalist from Boroum Mayfa village, west of Al-Mukalla, told Arab News.

Heavy rains triggered flash flooding that wreaked similar havoc in Shabwa, Abyan and Aden, but with no reported casualties, according to local officials.

A government official in Shabwa province told Arab News that the floods washed away farms, isolated villages and damaged several houses.

In Aden, bulldozers were seen clearing mud from the streets as government officials inspected damage caused by the rain.

In April, the internationally recognized government declared Aden, the interim capital of Yemen, a “disaster” area after torrential rains and heavy flooding killed more than 10 people and damaged infrastructure.

Local health officials and residents say that the latest rainfall may set the stage for the spread of the coronavirus and other diseases that killed more than 1,000 people in May.

Wednesday’s floods destroyed the main road that links Hadramout province with Aden, disrupting movement of medical teams and vital medical supplies, including testing kits, officials said.

Meteorologists predicted that the rains would disappear on the weekend.

“Remnants of the tropical depression continue to produce rain across southwest Yemen. Rain will wane over the area on Friday,” Jason Nicholls, a meteorologist for AccuWeather, said on Twitter on Thursday.