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
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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
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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.

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

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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.


Iran reports 258 coronavirus deaths, highest daily toll since December

Iran reports 258 coronavirus deaths, highest daily toll since December
Updated 3 min 1 sec ago

Iran reports 258 coronavirus deaths, highest daily toll since December

Iran reports 258 coronavirus deaths, highest daily toll since December
  • That brings the total number of fatalities from the coronavirus to 64,490
  • 21,063 new cases were identified in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of identified cases since the pandemic began to 2,070,141

DUBAI: Iran reported 258 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Sunday, the highest daily toll since early December.
That brings the total number of fatalities from the coronavirus to 64,490 in Iran, the worst-hit country in the Middle East.
Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV that 21,063 new cases were identified in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of identified cases since the pandemic began to 2,070,141.
“Unfortunately, in the past 24 hours 258 people have died from the virus,” Lari said. State TV said it was the country’s highest daily death toll since Dec. 10.
Iran’s Health Minister Saeed Namaki, in a televised news conference, warned about more fatalities in the coming week if Iranians fail to adhere to health protocols. On Saturday, Tehran imposed a 10-day lockdown across most of the country to curb the spread of a fourth wave of the coronavirus. The lockdown affects 23 of the country’s 31 provinces.
Businesses, schools, theaters and sports facilities have been forced to shut and gatherings are banned during the holy fasting month of Ramadan that begins on Wednesday in Iran.


‘Accident’ strikes Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility

‘Accident’ strikes Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility
Updated 11 April 2021

‘Accident’ strikes Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility

‘Accident’ strikes Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility
  • Behrouz Kamalvandi said there were no injuries nor pollution caused by the incident
  • Iran later called the incident sabotage

TEHRAN: Iran's Natanz nuclear site suffered a problem Sunday involving its electrical distribution grid just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges that more quickly enrich uranium, state TV reported. It was the latest incident to strike one of Tehran's most-secured sites amid negotiations over the tattered atomic accord with world powers.
State TV quoted Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran's civilian nuclear program, announcing the incident.
Kamalvandi said there were no injuries or pollution cause by the incident.
The word state television used in its report attributed to Kamalvandi in Farsi can be used for both “accident” and “incident.” It didn't immediately clarify the report, which ran at the bottom of its screen on its live broadcast. The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the civilian arm of its nuclear program, did not immediately issue a formal statement about the incident on its website.
Natanz suffered a mysterious explosion in July that authorities later described as sabotage. Israel, Iran's regional archenemy, has been suspected of carrying out an attack there, as well as launching other assaults, as world powers now negotiate with Tehran in Vienna over its nuclear deal.
On Saturday, Iran announced it had launched a chain of 164 IR-6 centrifuges at the plant, injecting them with the uranium gas and beginning their rapid spinning. Officials also began testing the IR-9 centrifuge, which they say will enrich uranium 50 times faster than Iran's first-generation centrifuges, the IR-1. The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only IR-1s for enrichment.
Since then-President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, Tehran has abandoned all the limits of its uranium stockpile. It now enriches up to 20% purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%. Iran maintains its atomic program is for peaceful purposes, but fears about Tehran having the ability to make a bomb saw world powers reach the deal with the Islamic Republic in 2015.
The deal lifted economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for it limiting its program and allowing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to keep a close watch on its work.


Libya launches COVID-19 vaccination drive after delays

Libya launches COVID-19 vaccination drive after delays
Updated 11 April 2021

Libya launches COVID-19 vaccination drive after delays

Libya launches COVID-19 vaccination drive after delays
  • The country's healthcare system has been strained by years of political turmoil and violence
  • Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh called it a "blessed day" in the fight against COVID-19 after receiving his shot

TRIPOLI: Libya's new unity government launched a long-delayed COVID-19 vaccination programme on Saturday after receiving some 160,000 vaccine doses over the past week, with the prime minister receiving his jab on live television.
While Libya is richer than its neighbours due to oil exports, the country's healthcare system has been strained by years of political turmoil and violence, and it has struggled to cope during the pandemic.
Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh called it a "blessed day" in the fight against COVID-19 after receiving his shot, without saying which vaccine he had been given. At least 100,000 of the doses that arrived this week were Russia's Sputnik V vaccine.
Dbeibeh's interim Government of National Unity was sworn in last month after emerging through a UN-facilitated process with a mandate to unify the country, improve state services and oversee the run-up to a national election in December.
Dbeibeh's government has framed the delivery of vaccines and the national roll-out as evidence that it is improving the lives of ordinary Libyans after replacing two warring administrations that ruled in the east and west of the country.
"Through the political consultations and the efforts of the prime minister, the vaccine is available," said Health Minister Ali Al-Zanati, who has said previously the government had so far ordered enough doses to inoculate 1.4 million of the country's more than six million people.
Libya's National Centre for Disease Control has said more than 400,000 people have registered for vaccination in more than 400 centres around the country.
Libya has recorded more than 166,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 3,000 deaths, though UN envoys have said the true figures are likely far higher.
"I feel sorry that the vaccine arrived late in Libya after thousands were infected. But better late than never," said Ali al-Hadi, a shop owner, adding that his wife had been sick with COVID-19 and recovered.
Many Libyans fear the vaccination campaign could be marred by political infighting or favouritism after years of unrest.
"We hope the Health Ministry will steer away from political conflicts so that services can reach patients," said housewife Khawla Muhammad, 33. 


Suez Canal receives Middle East’s largest dredger

Suez Canal receives Middle East’s largest dredger
A file photo shows a dredger trying to free the Panama-flagged MV Ever Given long vessel across the waterway of Egypt's Suez Canal. (AFP)
Updated 10 April 2021

Suez Canal receives Middle East’s largest dredger

Suez Canal receives Middle East’s largest dredger
  • Its maximum drilling depth is 35 m and the dredger has control, safety and security systems matching the latest standards of international supervisory bodies

CAIRO: Egypt has welcomed the largest dredger of its kind in the Middle East, the “Mohab Mamish,” on board the heavy transport vessel Xiang Rui Kou.

Dredgers are advanced drilling equipment used by the Suez Canal to cleanse the waterway of sand and mud deposits, contributing to its expansion and deepening.

The Suez Canal showed its reliance on dredgers in the rescue and re-float operation of the giant container ship “Ever Given,” which ran aground in the shipping course on March 23. The incident caused the canal’s closure for six days.

Sources said that the dredger, inaugurated by the Dutch IHC Shipyard, would begin its new duties within the Suez Canal fleet soon.

The “Mohab Mamish” has a length of 147.4 meters, a width of 23 m, a depth of 7.7 m, and a draft of 5.5 m. It has a productivity of 3,600 cubic meters of sand per hour over a length of 4 km.

Its maximum drilling depth is 35 m and the dredger has control, safety and security systems matching the latest standards of international supervisory bodies.

The head of the Suez Canal Authority, Osama Rabie, said the “Mohab Mamish” was one of the vessels used to boost the canal’s development and that the dredging fleet was the main pillar in the strategy for developing the canal’s shipping course.

It provided the best guarantee to maintain the canal’s 24-meter depth, allowing the crossing of giant ships with large submersibles.

Rabie added that the canal’s dredging fleet had recently expanded its work, joining in with the development of Egypt’s ports and the disinfection of lakes.

IHC is working on launching another dredger for the Suez Canal called “Hussein Tantawi.” The two dredgers have a combined value of €300 million ($357.06 million).

Rabie also said the authority’s machines would be developed and the tensile strength would be adjusted to carry 250,000 tons, in comparison to the current 160,000 tons to match the tonnage and size of ships crossing the shipping course.


Iran boosts nuclear program in snub to US

Iran boosts nuclear program in snub to US
Updated 11 April 2021

Iran boosts nuclear program in snub to US

Iran boosts nuclear program in snub to US
  • President Hassan Rouhani inaugurates cascades of 164 IR-6 centrifuges and 30 IR-5 devices at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant
  • The new move is a direct challenge to the US, after talks began last week aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal

TEHRAN/JEDDAH: Iran on Saturday started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges in breach of its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to curb its nuclear program.

The new move is a direct challenge to the US, after talks began last week aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. Washington said it had offered “very serious” ideas on rescuing the agreement, which collapsed in 2018 when the US withdrew, but was waiting for Tehran to reciprocate.

Tehran’s response came on Saturday, when President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated a cascade of 164 IR-6 centrifuges for producing enriched uranium, as well as two test cascades of 30 IR-5 and 30 IR-6S devices at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant, in a ceremony broadcast by state television.

Rouhani also launched tests on the “mechanical stability” of its latest-generation IR-9 centrifuges, and remotely opened a centrifuge assembly factory to replace a plant that was badly damaged in a July 2020 explosion widely attributed to Israel.

Rouhani again underlined at the ceremony, which coincided with Iran’s National Nuclear Technology Day, that Tehran’s nuclear program is solely for “peaceful” purposes.

Under the 2015 deal between Tehran and world powers, Iran is permitted to use only “first-generation” IR-1 centrifuges for production, and to test a limited number of IR-4 and IR-5 devices.

When the US withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018, Donald Trump reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran, which responded by stepping up its nuclear enrichment to levels prohibited under the JCPOA.

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Iran’s latest move follows an opening round of talks in Vienna Tuesday with representatives of the remaining parties to the deal on bringing the US back into it.

All sides said the talks, in which Washington is not participating directly but is relying on the EU as an intermediary, got off to a good start.

However, US allies in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, believe any revived deal should also cover Iran’s ballistic missile program and its regional meddling through proxy militias in Yemen, Iraq and elsewhere.

Iran has demanded that the US lift all sanctions imposed by Trump before it resumes compliance with the JCPOA. The US insists that Iran must act first.

“The United States team put forward a very serious idea and demonstrated a seriousness of purpose on coming back into compliance if Iran comes back into compliance,” a US official said.

But the official said the US was waiting for its efforts to be reciprocated by Iran.

Iran is also demanding an end to all US restrictions, but the JCPOA covers only nuclear sanctions and not US measures taken in response to human rights and terrorism issues.

(With AFP)