AUB’s saga of survival in the limelight as Lebanon battles financial, coronavirus crises

AUB’s saga of survival in the limelight as Lebanon battles financial, coronavirus crises
1 / 2
The American University of Beirut finds itself at the heart of Lebanon’s financial and public-health catastrophe, as Arab News finds out. (Wikimedia Commons/marviikad)
AUB’s saga of survival in the limelight as Lebanon battles financial, coronavirus crises
2 / 2
Short Url
Updated 01 August 2020

AUB’s saga of survival in the limelight as Lebanon battles financial, coronavirus crises

AUB’s saga of survival in the limelight as Lebanon battles financial, coronavirus crises
  • American University of Beirut finds itself at the heart of Lebanon’s financial and public-health catastrophe
  • AUB has survived two world wars, famines, civil strife, epidemics and changing regional maps

LONDON: It is never easy to be emotionally detached as one tries to write about one’s alma mater.

But writing about the American University of Beirut (AUB) is a little more difficult, since I regard it as a second home.

Being one of the Arab world’s oldest universities has not shielded AUB from the effects of Lebanon’s unfolding financial, economic and public-health catastrophe.

The situation it is in makes writing about AUB achingly difficult.

Along with my beloved high school, ISC Choueifat, AUB has been part of my family for many decades.

My father, myself, and all my siblings made the same move from Choueifat to AUB.

Furthermore, the first stroll I took with my future wife (an alumna herself) was inside the beautiful AUB campus.

Whenever I am in Lebanon, my stay would never be complete without a lingering visit to the campus; stopping at the departments of History and Arabic in College Hall, the university’s oldest and most iconic building, or the Political Science department in Jesup Hall.

No breathtaking views can compare with the ones looking down from the hilly, charming Upper Campus of the blue Mediterranean and the Green Field in the Lower Campus. This, really, is home.

W.M. Thomson, the prominent American Protestant missionary and author of “The Land and the Book” (published 1859), proposed to a meeting of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, on Jan. 23, 1862, that a college of higher learning should be established in Beirut, with Dr. Daniel Bliss as its president.

Thomson, who spent 25 years in Ottoman Syria, also proposed that the college would include medical training.

According to historical documents, on April 24, 1863, while Bliss was raising money for the new college in the US and the UK, the state of New York granted a charter for the Syrian Protestant College.

The college, which was renamed the American University of Beirut in the early 1920s, opened with a class of 16 students on December 3, 1866.

Daniel Bliss served as its first president, from 1866-1902.

In the beginning, Arabic was used as the language of instruction because it was the common language of the ethnic groups of the region, and prospective students needed to be fluent in Ottoman Turkish or in French as well as in English.

However, in 1887, the language of instruction became English and continues to be until now.




Suliman S. Olayan School of Business. (Courtesy of AUB)

The young university was destined not only to share its fate with the region in which it was founded, but also help shape it.

In its 154 years of existence, AUB has gone through two world wars, famines, civil strife, epidemics, changing maps, as well as economic booms and busts, and all this in one of the world’s most turbulent areas.

It is a mark of the institution’s commitment to excellence in education and promoting intellectual vigor that throughout these years, the AUB alumni, with various specializations, have had a broad and significant impact on the region and the world.

Key Dates

  • 1

    Daniel Bliss becomes founding president of Syrian Protestant College (SPC).

    Timeline Image 1866-1902

  • 2

    SPC settles in Ras Beirut campus, purchased for about $8,000.

  • 3

    Al-Muqtataf, a monthly Arabic scientific and cultural journal, is launched.

    Timeline Image 1876

  • 4

    Professor Edwin Lewis resigns after angering missionary community with his acknowledgment of Charles Darwin as one of the great scientists of his time. Students protest, demanding freedom of speech on campus.

    Timeline Image 1882

  • 5

    English becomes main language of instruction in SPC’s medical department.

  • 6

    AUH, a 200-bed hospital, is built.

    Timeline Image 1902

  • 7

    Medical department provides care after Beirut is shelled by two Italian warships targeting Ottoman naval positions in the area.

    Timeline Image 1912

  • 8

    SPC medical staff assist relief efforts of the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief during World War I.

    Timeline Image 1915

  • 9

    Many starving children, orphaned in the wake of World War I, are cared for at the SPC hospital and the Aintoura Orphanage.

  • 10

    Eight SPC women establish Women’s League to provide a wide range of social services.

  • 11

    SPC becomes AUB and grants all professors institutional equality and voting rights within the general faculty, regardless of national origin.

    Timeline Image 1920

  • 12

    AUB becomes fully coeducational

    Timeline Image 1924

  • 13

    AUB becomes World War II safe haven for residents of surrounding neighborhoods.

    Timeline Image 1941

  • 14

    AUB students participate in social protests and force French forces to release prisoners as Lebanon gains independence.

  • 15

    US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visits AUB campus.

    Timeline Image 1952

  • 16

    Students hold demonstrations in support of Palestinians and Algerians and against Baghdad Pact.

  • 17

    First open-heart surgery in Lebanon and the Middle East, by Dr. Ibrahim Dagher, performed in AUB.

    Timeline Image 1958

  • 18

    Lebanese civil war begins with deadly shooting at a church in East Beirut. Phalangist gunmen respond by ambushing a bus, killing 27 of its passengers.

    Timeline Image 1975

  • 19

    An expelled student murders two deans on AUB campus on Feb. 17.

  • 20

    Summer courses canceled following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.

    Timeline Image 1982

  • 21

    AUB President Malcolm Kerr assassinated outside of his office in College Hall.

    Timeline Image 1984

  • 22

    AUB closes after a series of kidnappings of community members.

  • 23

    Academic program resumes in October after halt forced by civil war violence. Over a 13-month period the medical college treats 23,000 war casualties.

    Timeline Image 1989

  • 24

    A bomb destroys a large portion of College Hall, killing an AUB employee.

    Timeline Image 1991

  • 25

    AUB announces University for Seniors.

  • 26

    AUB libraries joins US libraries to create a digital library of more than 100,000 Arabic volumes.

  • 27

    President Fadlo Khuri announces on March 12 technology-assisted classes to limit the spread of COVID-19.

No less than 19 AUB alumni were delegates to the signing of the UN Charter in 1945; more than any other university in the world.

AUB graduates, Arabs and non-Arabs, continue to serve in leadership positions as heads of states, prime ministers, cabinet ministers, members of parliament, ambassadors, governors of central banks, university presidents and deans of colleges, academics.

Many have become well-known leaders, scientists, engineers, doctors, artists, literary figures as well as prominent employees in governments, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations.

The Lebanese civil war (1975–1990) was another milestone in AUB’s history.

Its medical facilities saved tens of thousands of lives, as it continued to carry out its educational duties in the difficult times.

The AUB pursued various means to preserve the continuity of studies, including enrolment agreements with universities in the US.

Its leadership also strived to maintain the unity, integrity and well-being of the university, by resisting calls to partition it along the sectarian lines of the de facto divided Lebanese capital.

However, despite its unstinting efforts, AUB did not go through the war unscathed.

In 1982, Acting President David S. Dodge was kidnapped on campus by pro-Iranian extremists

Then, on Jan. 18, 1984, President Malcolm H. Kerr was killed outside his office allegedly by members of Islamic Jihad.

In fact, in 1984 and 1985, a number of university staff were kidnapped.

Later in November 1991, a bomb believed to have been set off by pro-Iranian fundamentalists demolished College Hall, the main building of the university, injuring four people, on the 125th anniversary of the school’s founding.

This incident caused widespread anger and spurred the university and its alumni chapters to launch a worldwide fund-raising campaign to rebuild the impressive architectural landmark.

The success of this campaign was crowned by the inauguration of the building in the spring of 1999.

During the last 154 years, AUB has had 16 presidents. The current president is Dr Fadlo Khuri, whose nomination was approved on March 19, 2015, by the university’s Board of Trustees.

He was appointed as AUB’s 16th president on Jan. 25, 2016.

A medical doctor, Dr Khuri graduated from Yale University and Columbia University Medical School and was a professor of hematology and oncology at Emory University.




AUB’s president, Dr. Fadlo Khuri. (Supplied)

Like many presidents before him, Dr. Khuri has a long family association with AUB. His paternal grandfather was an early alumnus, his late father, Dr. Raja Khuri, was a dean of the School of Medicine, and his mother, Sumayya Khuri – now retired – was a professor of mathematics.

In the fall of 2018, there were over 9,000 students enrolled at AUB: 7,180 undergraduates and 1,922 graduate students, studying at the university’s seven faculties, namely:

* Agricultural and Food Sciences.

* Arts and Sciences.

* Health Sciences.

* Medicine.

* Rafic Hariri School of Nursing.

* The Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture.

* The Suliman S. Olayan School of Business.

For a while, AUB also had a Dental School and a School of Pharmacy, but they were later discontinued.

All the existing faculties are located in the university campus of 61 acres, which has 64 buildings, including a highly renowned medical center.

Furthermore, the university owns and operates a 247-acre research farm and educational facility in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon.

The main Ras Beirut campus is situated on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea on one side and bordering Bliss Street on the other.

------

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

------

Among its 64 buildings are seven dormitories and several libraries.

In addition, the campus houses the Charles W. Hostler Student Center, an observatory, an Archaeological Museum as well as the widely renowned Natural History Museum.

The AUB Medical Center (AUBMC) is the private, not-for-profit teaching center of the Faculty of Medicine. AUBMC includes a 420-bed hospital and offers comprehensive tertiary/quaternary medical care and referral services in a wide range of specialties and medical, nursing, and paramedical training programs at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels.

Throughout its history, the AUB Medical Center, which was formerly known as the American University Hospital (AUH), has played a critical role in caring for the victims of regional and local conflicts.

It provided care for the sick and wounded during World War I and World War II, the Lebanese War, the Palestinian conflict, and the invasion of Iraq.

In recent years, it has provided care for a number of Syrian refugees at the Medical Center in Beirut, at partner hospitals, and at mobile clinics.

In 2008, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) invited AUB’s Rafic Hariri School of Nursing to become a full member, making it the first member of the AACN outside the US.

AUBMC is the first healthcare institution in the Middle East and the third in the world outside the US to receive this award.

In his inaugural address in January 2016, Khuri affirmed AUB’s commitment to be the regional leader and a key global partner in addressing global health challenges.


Explosion on military bus in Damascus, injuries reported

Explosion on military bus in Damascus, injuries reported
Updated 27 min 40 sec ago

Explosion on military bus in Damascus, injuries reported

Explosion on military bus in Damascus, injuries reported

BEIRUT: An explosion hit a military bus in Damascus early on Wednesday, and a number of people were reportedly wounded, state news agency SANA reported.
The explosion happened in the bus while it was near the entrance of a heavily fortified Republican Guards housing compound in the west of the Syrian capital, SANA said.
A source with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be named, said at least ten people were wounded.
Blasts in Damascus have been rare since forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad took control of rebel enclaves around the city.
There have been several attacks this year on army vehicles in eastern Syria by suspected Daesh militants who still operate in the sprawling desert area.


UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots

UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots
Updated 04 August 2021

UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots

UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots
  • The booster shot would be available to people considered at high risk three months after their second vaccine dose
  • The regional tourism and business hub has among the world’s highest immunization rates

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates will start providing a booster shot against COVID-19 to all fully vaccinated individuals in the Gulf Arab state, the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) said on Tuesday.
It said on Twitter the booster shot would be available to people considered at high risk three months after their second vaccine dose, and six months for others.

The Gulf state, which has approved five types of COVID-19 vaccines, had in June begun providing booster shots to those initially immunized with a vaccine developed by the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm).
The regional tourism and business hub has among the world’s highest immunization rates. Around 79 percent of the population of roughly 9 million had received one vaccine dose, while some 70 percent had been fully vaccinated, according to latest official data.


Amid anger and despair, Lebanon braces for port explosion anniversary

People on Tuesday put white roses on portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Aug 4 explosion. (Reuters)
People on Tuesday put white roses on portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Aug 4 explosion. (Reuters)
Updated 04 August 2021

Amid anger and despair, Lebanon braces for port explosion anniversary

People on Tuesday put white roses on portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Aug 4 explosion. (Reuters)
  • Legislative authority yet to decide on Judge Tarek Bitar’s request to lift the immunity of three MPs

BEIRUT: The families of the Beirut port explosion victims are reticent about revealing the steps they will take on Wednesday to commemorate the first anniversary of the explosion.

The massive blast — the country’s worst peacetime disaster — destroyed a large section of the capital on Aug. 4, 2020, killed at least 214 people, and injured more than 6,500.
It was caused when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored at the port for several years without proper safety precautions, ignited during a fire and exploded.
On the occasion of the first anniversary, UNICEF reported that six children were among the deceased as more than 1,000 children were also injured in the blast.
“All that can be said is that people are angry and will express their anger,” an activist among the groups that will participate in planned protests on Wednesday told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
“We will see some unexpected action if the security forces confront the protesters with violence. We know that tight security measures will be taken. Public institutions and administrations will be occupied and the sit-in will only end once the immunity is lifted for officials summoned by the judiciary in the port explosion investigation.”
The Lebanese parliament is yet to decide on Judge Tarek Bitar’s request to lift the immunity of three MPs accused in the Beirut port explosion: former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, former Public Works Minister Ghazi Zeaiter, and Former Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk.
Caretaker Interior Minister Mohamed Fahmy refused to lift the immunity of the defendant Abbas Ibrahim, director-general of the Lebanese General Security, last week. Only the Bar Association lifted the immunity of the accused lawyers. Judge Bitar had previously charged the three MPs, and former minister Youssef Fenianos, with “negligence” and “possible intent to murder” because they were aware of ammonium nitrate “and did not take measures to spare the country the risks of an explosion.”
The legislative authority has so far refrained from lifting the immunity of any politicians and has not authorized prosecuting security officials.
In addition, Judge Bitar also requested to question Ibrahim and Director-General of State Security, Maj. Gen. Antoine Saliba, as well as several judges.
Civil society groups appealed to Lebanese citizens this week and asked them to join victims’ families along with the civil defense and the fire fighting brigade, which also lost several members in the explosion.
A vigil is scheduled after the call to prayer, which will be followed by a mass held by the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi. “The groups that will participate in the commemoration are retired soldiers, trade unionists, and self-employed professionals,” the activist said.

FASTFACTS

• The massive blast — the country’s worst peacetime disaster — destroyed a large section of the capital on Aug. 4, 2020, killed at least 214 people, and injured more than 6,500.

• It was caused when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored at the port for several years without proper safety precautions, ignited during a fire and exploded.

“They will head to several locations, the politicians’ residences included.”
He pointed out that the American University Hospital in Beirut alerted its emergency department to be on high alert for Wednesday’s protests.
Medical teams from the hospitals damaged in the blast, including Saint Georges, Hotel Dieu, Geitaoui, Rizk, and Wardieh hospitals will also gather at the port.
The victims’ faces will accompany people attending the vigil as they head to the port since volunteer artists drew the faces of many victims along the walls of the sidewalks leading to where the blast occurred.
Lebanon will mark the day of mourning on Wednesday as all institutions will be closed, including banks, restaurants, and cafes. The flags will be lowered and black flags will be raised above the buildings.
“I expect a major turnout because people are furious and those responsible for this crime must be held accountable. We will try to avoid getting injured, but we do expect some injuries among our ranks,” the activist said.
Activists took to social media to call on “soldiers and officers in the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Forces, whose salaries have become less than $70, not to protect the killers and suppress the angry people on Aug. 4.”
Lebanese expatriates in Paris, Geneva, Berlin, Barcelona, Brussels, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, New York, San Francisco, and Cleveland are organizing sit-ins to stand with Beirut.
Most notably, France and the UN are organizing an Aug. 4 international conference “to address the humanitarian needs of Lebanon’s most vulnerable people.”
The spokesman for the families of the victims, Ibrahim Hoteit, had given the politicians a 30-hour deadline, ending on Wednesday afternoon, to lift the immunity. He said in a press conference that the protests would be “a bone-breaking battle now that we are done with the routine peaceful movements.”
Political parties joined the commemoration of Aug. 4, but they did so on Aug. 2 and 3, in order to avoid any clashes between their supporters and other protesters.
Economic and living crises are ever-increasing amid the political deadlock.
These crises have exacerbated the citizens who lack electricity, medicine, and fuel, while they lost 90 percent of their income’s value in light of the Lebanese pound’s devaluation.
In a statement issued on the eve of the anniversary of the port explosion, the International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG) renewed its solidarity “with the families of the victims and all those whose lives have been affected.”
The ISG, which includes representatives of the UN, China, France, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation, the UK, the US, the EU, and the League of Arab States, urged the Lebanese authorities to “swiftly complete the investigation into the port explosion so that the truth may be known and justice rendered.”
Meanwhile, Democracy Reporting International (DRI) accused the Lebanese authorities of “continuing to weaken the judicial investigations and prevent the lifting of immunity for MPs, ministers and security leaders who remained silent or tolerant of the presence of ammonium nitrate, and did nothing.”


Tunisian labor union urges new PM appointment to ease crisis

Supporters of the UGTT union, one of Tunisia’s most powerful political forces. (AP/File Photo)
Supporters of the UGTT union, one of Tunisia’s most powerful political forces. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 03 August 2021

Tunisian labor union urges new PM appointment to ease crisis

Supporters of the UGTT union, one of Tunisia’s most powerful political forces. (AP/File Photo)

TUNIS: Tunisia’s powerful labor union urged the president on Tuesday to rapidly announce a new government that should be small and led by an experienced premier, after he seized executive control in a move his opponents called a coup.

President Kais Saied has defended his actions as constitutional and said he will govern alongside a new prime minister during an emergency period, but nine days after his intervention, he has yet to name one.

“We can’t wait 30 days for the announcement of a government,” said Sami Tahri, a spokesman for the UGTT union, one of Tunisia’s most powerful political forces.

UGTT chief Noureddine Taboubi said later on state television later on Tuesday that the cabinet should be small and headed by somebody with experience, sending a positive message to both Tunisians and international lenders.

“We must speed up the formation of the government to be able to face economic and health challenges,” he said.

Saied’s sudden intervention on July 25 appeared to have widespread public support but raised fears for the future of the democratic system that Tunisia adopted after its 2011 revolution that triggered the Arab Spring.

On Tuesday Saied removed Tunisia’s ambassador to Washington, the latest in a string of dismissals of senior and mid-ranking officials over the past week including several ministers. He did not immediately name a replacement.

He is also still to announce a roadmap to end an emergency period that he initially set at one month but later announced could be two months.

A source close to the presidential palace in Carthage said earlier that Saied might announce the new premier on Tuesday. Sources have told Reuters that Central Bank Governor Marouane Abassi and two former finance ministers, Hakim Hammouda and Nizar Yaich, are contenders.

Saied’s most powerful organized opponent, the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, has meanwhile been riven by internal splits over its response to the crisis and its longer-term strategy and leadership.

Tunisians had over the past decade grown ever more frustrated by economic stagnation, corruption and bickering among a political class that often seemed more focused on its own narrow interests than on national problems.

The coronavirus pandemic ripped through Tunisia over the past two months as the state vaccination effort crawled, leading at one point to the worst infection and death rates in Africa. Pandemic counter-measures last year hammered the economy.

On Monday Saied replaced the finance, agriculture and telecoms ministers after having said last week that “wrong economic choices” had cost the country.

On Sunday he said there were contacts with “friendly countries” for financial assistance. (Reporting by Tarek Amara, writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by William Maclean and Mark Heinrich)


Tunisia leader fires ambassador to US in rash of dismissals

Tunisia leader fires ambassador to US in rash of dismissals
Updated 03 August 2021

Tunisia leader fires ambassador to US in rash of dismissals

Tunisia leader fires ambassador to US in rash of dismissals
  • President Kais Saied has to say who will replace the prime minister he fired less than two weeks ago
  • Local polls say there is large support for Saied’s controversial actions

TUNIS, Tunisia: A day after naming a new economy minister, President Kais Saied on Tuesday added Tunisia’s ambassador to the United States to a rash of dismissals.
Yet he has to say who will replace the prime minister he fired less than two weeks ago or when.
Saied, who took on executive powers July 25 and began ruling by decree, has also undertaken globe-spanning consultations, meeting Tuesday with the foreign minister of Egypt, a critical ally in the Middle East.
Local polls say there is large support for Saied’s controversial actions, which importantly included freezing Tunisia’s parliament,
The North African country has been cementing its democracy since chasing out its former autocratic ruler a decade ago, triggering the Arab Spring. Tunisia is the only success story to emerge from those chaotic times, and allies, from the United States to Europe and the Middle East, have worried about what comes next.
Tunisia is coping with economic, social and health crises, with the coronavirus pandemic overwhelming its hospitals. Saied, using an article in the constitution that allows a president to step in under grave circumstances, has said he did so to save the country.
In his meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry, the president highlighted “the correlation between Egypt’s and Tunisia’s security and stability,” the official TAP news agency said.
Egypt’s envoy said that Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi backed Saied’s moves with “his full support for the historic steps” of the Tunisian leader, TAP added. “Egypt and Tunisia are working together to ensure stability not only in the two countries, but also across the region,” the agency quoted the foreign minister as saying after the meeting.
The important Economy Ministry got a new acting minister Monday, with the dismissal of Ali Kooli, as did the Communications Technology ministry.
The rash of firings that began when Saied assumed all executive power continued Tuesday. Tunisia’s ambassador to Washington, Nejmeddine Lakhal, was the latest dignitary terminated, the official news agency said. No explanation was given. Also Tuesday, the president fired the governor of the important Sfax region in eastern Tunisia.
Some lawmakers have not been spared, snared by judicial officials on complaints that could not be prosecuted earlier. The president lifted the immunity of the parliamentary body when he took on all powers, and a handful have been summoned to answer to charges they had escaped.