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.”


Missing boy’s death exposes Houthi child recruitment

A boy holds a weapon while Shiite rebels known as Houthis protest against coalition airstrikes, during a rally in Sanaa, Yemen, Wednesday, April 1, 2015. (AP)
Updated 1 min 5 sec ago

Missing boy’s death exposes Houthi child recruitment

  • Barman said the Houthis have never been ashamed of their recruitment of children despite local and international criticism

AL-MUKALLA: When 15-year-old Abdul Aziz Ali Al-Dharhani went missing, his family visited the local Houthi officials of their small village in Yemen’s Dhale province to ask for information. The Iranian-backed rebels said they knew nothing about their son’s whereabouts.

The family were certain the officials were lying, because their son had attended Houthi religious sessions at a local mosque before he went missing. Family members circulated Al-Dharhani’s image on social media and asked people to help find him.

A local Houthi figure, despite claiming to not know about the child, called the family 10 days later to congratulate them on the “martyrdom” of their son.

Abdurrahman Barman, a Yemeni human rights advocate and director of the American Center for Justice, investigated the boy’s disappearance and said Al-Dharhani was brainwashed by Houthis and sent to battle where he was killed.

Barman added that his investigation revealed that Houthis actively recruit child soldiers.

“Before joining them, the boy was friendly and got on with people,” he told Arab News.

After joining sessions at the mosque, where he was lectured on jihad and Houthi movement founder Hussein Al-Houthi, Al-Dharhani isolated himself from family and friends. He left home without telling anyone, leaving his family in fear and panic.

“The Houthis give recruited children nicknames to convince them they are men and can fight,” Barman said, adding that he learned the boy was sent to the front line without any military training.

“He was killed shortly after,” Barman said.

Houthis held a long funeral procession where his body was wrapped in slogans. Houthi media quoted local officials as saying that Al-Dharhani was a “hero” who fought Israel, the US and other enemies.

Barman said the Houthis have never been ashamed of their recruitment of children despite local and international criticism.

“The Houthi movement boasts about the deaths of their child soldiers. Even some Houthi-affiliated rights activists describe dead children as heroes and martyrs.”

Yemeni government officials, human rights groups and experts said the story of Al-Dharhani represents only the tip of the iceberg. Houthis are alleged to have recruited thousands of children over the last five years to shore up troop numbers amid the increasingly costly war.

The Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations, known as the Rasd Coalition, recently reported that Houthis had recruited 7,000 children from heavily populated areas under their control.

Nadwa Al-Dawsari, a Yemeni conflict analyst, told Arab News that Houthis are responsible for most child soldiers in Yemen and use specific strategies to draw children to the front line.

“Houthis are aggressive when it comes to recruiting children. They are responsible for over 70 percent of child soldiers in Yemen according to the UN. They lure children to fight with them by brainwashing them through mosques and religious activities, sometimes without the knowledge of their families,” she said.

On the battlefield, the recruited children take part in fighting or logistical work, while some operate as spies. Al-Dawsari said Houthi ideology helps explain why they brag about recruiting children.

“They are a radical Jihadist group that doesn’t hesitate to spill blood to achieve their political objectives. They want to ensure Abdulmalik Al-Houthi and the Hashemite bloodline rule Yemen for good,” she said.

Rehabilitation center

In the central city of Marib, the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center founded a institute to rehabilitate soldiers in Yemen in 2017. The center has rehabilitated about 480 child soldiers. Mohammed Al-Qubaty, the center’s director, told Arab News that children are usually lured into joining through financial and social incentives. Enlisted children are given salaries, arms and food, while others are forced to take up arms, he said. “Children are cheap and easily influenced. They quickly learn how to use arms and are obedient to their commanders,” he added.