The Board of Trustees at the American University of Beirut has voted to elect Fadlo R. Khuri, MD, as the 16th president of the university. Dr. Khuri is presently Professor and Chairman of the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology, Emory University School of Medicine, and holds the Roberto C. Goizueta Distinguished Chair for Cancer Research. He also serves as Deputy Director for the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. Dr. Khuri was recently appointed Executive Associate Dean for Research of the Emory University School of Medicine.
An AUB trustee since 2014 and AUB former student, he has been a member of Naef K. Basile Foundation Board of Trustees since 2005, and a member of the Atlanta International School Board of Trustees since 2009. Dr. Khuri has chaired the AUB Medical School International Advisory Committee since 2010. He currently serves as chair of the education committee of the Atlanta International School board of trustees.
He will be installed as the successor to Dr. Peter Dorman, who has served AUB with distinction since his appointment in March 2008.
The announcement today follows an intensive international search commissioned by the AUB Board of Trustees that included direct input from AUB faculty, students and staff and from worldwide alumni communities.
AUB Board Chairman Dr. Philip S. Khoury, who co-chaired the search committee with Trustee Dr. Huda Zoghbi, said, “The committee was particularly attentive to the needs of the university as defined by its own constituents. We found great consistency in the attributes AUB students, faculty, alumni, and other stakeholders identified as critical for the university’s leadership and we are completely confident that Dr. Khuri embodies those attributes.”
In an Al-Monitor article in 2013, I suggested that partly because of the civil strife, traditional core cities in the Arab world such as Damascus, Cairo and Baghdad are facing, as well as increased cultural investments by Gulf states, the center of gravity for art and culture in the Arab world was shifting eastward to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha. The article created controversy both within the Gulf states and the wider Arab world.
Sadly, these “core” Arab cities have only faced more setbacks since 2013. Terror attacks have escalated and museums have been looted. But there is reason to celebrate. For instance, prompted by the grotesque destruction of the Mosul Museum by the Islamic State thugs, Baghdad brought forward the opening of its national museum 12 years after it closed; Egypt finally reopened the National Museum of Modern Art in Cairo as well as the Mahmoud Said Museum in Alexandria, which also houses the Wanly brothers collection. Elsewhere in the Arab world, Morocco inaugurated a brand-new museum dedicated to art in Rabat, Amman’s Darat Al Funun continues to present a world-class series of exhibitions and Algeria is celebrating the naming of the northeastern city of Constantine as “capital city of Arabic culture in 2015” by UNESCO as part of its mega investments in cultural projects.
However, some of the most interesting developments in culture anywhere in the Middle East have been quietly taking place in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut. The once culturally buzzing city, whose name became synonymous with civil war, terror attacks and assassinations over the last four decades, seems to be steadily reclaiming the crown of Arab culture. But what is more impressive is the organic growth of the cultural scene in Beirut that is flourishing despite the dysfunctional Lebanese government, or perhaps because of it.
Unlike in its sister cities in the Gulf, very little of this cultural blossoming is driven by the state whose efforts concentrated on preserving and reopening the war-damaged National Museum of Beirut. An exception would be the partly government-backed Sursock Museum, which is slated to reopen in the coming weeks after a $13 million renovation that lasted several years and an expansion of its exhibition space to 8,500 square meters (2.10 acres). The funds were raised through various donations as well as government municipal taxes. Across Lebanon, a number of other museums continue to operate including one dedicated to the renowned poet and artist Khalil Gibran (1883-1931) in the picturesque mountainous town of Bcharre that includes 440 paintings.
Plans are also being developed for private museums to house the collections of major art patrons such as Palestinian Ramzi Dalloul, who has amassed what is probably the largest collection of modern and contemporary Arab art in private hands with over 3,300 works (in comparison, Qatar’s Mathaf has a collection of 8,000 mostly Arab artworks that also includes art from Turkish, Iranian and “other regions connected to the Arab world”). Retail entrepreneur Tony Salame has commissioned architect Zaha Hadid to design a $50 million flagship department store that will also include an art space of 3,000 square meters (0.74 acres) to display his collection of 1,000 artworks. Fondation Saradar, established in 2000, aims at building a private museum to house its collection of Lebanese works. Recently, an auction was held in Lebanon for yet another art museum called Beirut Contemporary, which is scheduled to open its doors in 2020. The auction raised almost twice the estimate initial amount at close to $1 million.
Lebanese institutions are also playing an important role in this cultural renaissance. In 2013, the American University of Beirut (AUB) inaugurated the AUB Byblos Bank Art Gallery a year after it received a donation of 60 paintings of Lebanese modern art pioneers. Financier and founder of Audi Bank Raymond Audi is said to have the largest collection of art in Lebanon. Audi began collecting art in the 1980s and has divided his collection into two parts: Old European master works are housed in the bank’s headquarters in Geneva, while the vault and offices of the branches in Lebanon hold predominantly modern and contemporary European and Lebanese art.
While the art market in some Middle Eastern states is dependent on a few buyers, the list of Lebanese art collectors is exhaustive. The Mokbel Art Collection, for instance, boasts a number of masterpieces by renowned artists such as Paul Guiragossian (1926-93). In its September 2014 issue, le Commerce du Levant profiled other major collections including Souheid (50 works), Maktabi (70 works), Buchakjian (50 works), Saade (140 works), Karabajakian (600 works), Jabre (200 works), Nahas (undisclosed) and Ramzi Saidi (600 works). These collectors are no doubt aided by a growing number of commercial art galleries that have sprouted in Beirut over the past decade.
Lebanon also boasts an incredible array of nonprofit art spaces. In 2009, the 1,486-square-meter Beirut Art Center (BAC) became the country’s “first major nonprofit art space." In addition to hosting some of the Middle East’s most cutting-edge contemporary group art exhibitions, the BAC has hosted the first Middle East’s solo exhibit of the renowned London-based Beirut-born Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum along with Berlin-based Algerian artist Kader Attia. Recently, Beirut’s so-called Rose House, built in 1882, was recommissioned and is currently hosting temporary art exhibitions but will be turned into a museum. Also in central Beirut, the Mansion, a once abandoned 1930s villa reopened in 2012 as an artistic space offering residencies, screenings and exhibitions while the MACAM art museum, housed in a large, converted factory, has become famous for its displays of sculptures.
Architects Makram El Kadi and Ziad Jamaleddine from L.E.F.T. were commissioned to reimagine a former exhibition center and turn it into the 1,200-square-meter Beirut Exhibition Center that has hosted solo exhibitions by Syria’s Marwan and Palestine’s Samia Halaby, as well as group shows such as "Art in Iraq Today" and "Bridge to Palestine." The Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts, also known as Ashkal Alwan was established as early as 1993 with a mandate to facilitate artistic production. In 2011, it inaugurated Home Workspace, a new 200-square-meter facility in the Jisr el Wati area. In fact, art centers seem to be sprouting like mushrooms in Lebanon including in Dahiye, the stronghold of Hezbollah, which in 2005 witnessed the opening of the Hangar where cutting-edge art projects are realized.
Perhaps because of the relative ease in obtaining nonprofit and foundation licenses, pan-Arab cultural institutions have also found a home in Beirut. The Arab Image Foundation, a nonprofit, was established in 1997 and aims to collect and preserve photographs from the Middle East and the Arab diaspora. Its 600,000-image collection has recently grown to include photographs from Latin America and Africa. Lebanon is also home to the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, which was established in 2007 to fund individuals who work in various fields from visual and performing arts to cinema and literature.
One may even wonder whether all this is happening perhaps a little too fast and with little oversight and coordination. For instance, Beirut is now the site of what seems to be two unrelated museums tackling civilization and archaeology, one designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano that has apparently secured funding to the tune of $30 million from Kuwait and another by GM Architects.
Despite the upswing in sentiment, however, obstacles remain to Beirut’s cultural ambitions. The country had a “care-taker government” throughout much of 2013, while it has been without a president since May 2014. Lebanon’s infrastructure including its electricity and telephone services are in a dismal condition. Moreover, there is an unshakable cloud of political uncertainty that looms over Beirut. In 2006, Israeli jets targeted Lebanon’s only airport shutting it down for weeks and forcing people to flee using the seaports and the Syrian border, an option that is no longer available. Recently, a major art dealer in North Africa told Al-Monitor of his apprehensions regarding selling important artworks to a major collector in Lebanon. “You never know what would happen there, I don’t want to lose the history of my country,” the art dealer said.
Sadly, the risk of losing artworks is not entirely far-fetched. In the 1970s, 200 artists from all over the world contributed in solidarity artworks for a Palestine museum in exile including Iraq’s Dia Azzawi and Kadhim Haidar, Morocco’s Mohamed Chebaa and Mohamed Kacimi, among others. The works were exhibited in the 1978 International Art Exhibition for Palestine in Lebanon, but were destroyed during the Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982 (an exhibition that tackles this event is currently running at Barcelona’s MACBA).
Despite the uncertainties, the Lebanese remain a resilient people who have weathered past turmoil and who benefit from an unrivaled network of successful Lebanese immigrants across the world. Beirut also remains the only city in the Arab world where artworks tackling taboo issues such as nudity, homosexuality, drug abuse, prostitution as well as candid political depictions can be displayed in public without fear of reprisal. In a region that is witnessing numerous raging fires from a crackdown on freedom of expression to bloodshed and human rights abuses, Beirut’s openness is indeed a breath of fresh air.
“Partnership, place, people, prospects…These are at the foundations of OLA,” said LAU’s Assistant Vice President for Outreach and Civic Engagement (OCE) Elie Samia, speaking today at the launch of a new LAU center in the southern city of Sidon.
The Outreach and Leadership Academy (OLA) is the result of yet another fruitful partnership between LAU and the Hariri Foundation. Since 2011, the university and the foundation have worked together on a number of initiatives centered on education and empowerment.
“Why do we partner with the Hariri Foundation?” asked Samia. “Because we have built a trust and have a chemistry with sitt Bahia ,” he said, referring to head of the Hariri Foundation Bahia Hariri, who also heads the commission of education and culture at the Lebanese Parliament.
“The Aisha school was one that launched pioneers,” said Hariri, a former teacher at the school that used to be based at the site of the new academy. Her brother, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, had himself studied there. “We can no longer educate our youth only to see them leave Lebanon when faced with the strangeness of our nation’s reality.”
Referring to young people as “a most invaluable treasure,” LAU President Joseph G. Jabbra agreed: “Lebanon’s youth must be cherished so they can illuminate Lebanon and the region, through civic engagement, inclusiveness, and respect for human dignity.”
Since 2011, LAU and the Hariri Foundation have trained over 2,000 middle and high-school students through joint initiatives that include the Leadership and Constitutional Education Academy, the Moderation and Justice Academy for Leaders and the LAU Model Arab League.
OLA, located among the old houses and souks of Sidon, will be the South Lebanon headquarters for all of these initiatives born of a strong trust between two institutions devoted to education, empowerment and engagement. Through the Sidon school network, which comprises 112 public, subsidized and private schools, OLA is connected to over 50,000 students and 5,500 teachers in the southern city alone.
“Imagine what 50,000 students can do if they are educated with burning passion and galvanized by a unifying spirit bent on changing Lebanon,” said Jabbra to an audience of 300 in the central courtyard of the recently renovated old palace which will henceforth serve as OLA’s home base.
“When we first saw this place we were dumbfounded,” said Samia. “The surrounding area, with its churches and mosques and museums, is a true example of moderation and of our mission.” Surrounding the courtyard are a number of small rooms, ten of which are set up as fully equipped smart classrooms. Tomorrow, Saturday February 21, OLA will already be hosting hundreds of teachers from the Sidon school network for talks and workshops.
“This center will be a beacon of civic engagement and an open space for all parents and students to learn more about LAU and our programs,” said Samia. “We have strong ties to this community through our scholarships. Learning at LAU is not a dream. We have a weakness for those who seek education.”
Nearly 90 research projects were presented at the 5th Biomedical Research Day at AUB, which has staked its place as a platform for collaboration on interdisciplinary research.
Master’s and PhD students as well as postdocs presented the results of ongoing research projects addressing topics as diverse as developing virtual patients for medical school examinations, testing the anti-cancerous activity of plant extracts, nutrition and diet research, and bullying and other behavioral research.
When it first started in 2010, the Research Day received 30 abstracts. Today it has attracted almost three times this number, which speaks to the University’s strategic objective to grow its research and graduate programs.
The majority of projects submitted came from the Faculty of Medicine, but the faculties of Engineering and Architecture, Arts and Sciences, Health Sciences, and Agricultural and Food Sciences were all represented through the projects.
“The biomedical research day provides a forum for students to present their research to the AUB community and to showcase the depth and breadth of research that is being performed at AUB within the different faculties and most importantly to foster collaborations between different investigators from different faculties,” said Dr. Ayad Jaffa, the chairperson of the organizing committee. “The essence of the meeting is to instill the interdisciplinary approach to biomedical research.”
Two keynote speakers were invited to speak at the event.
Dr. Georges El Fakhri, who is the youngest professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School and the founding director of the Center for Advanced Medical Imaging Sciences (CAMIS) at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and the co-director of the Division of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging, spoke on new advances in imaging. An internationally recognized expert in quantitative medical imaging, Dr. El-Fakhri has published more than 130 peer-reviewed articles, and proceedings, as well as many book chapters.
Dr. Muhammad H. Zaman, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor of Biomedical Engineering and International Health at Boston University, spoke on engineering health solutions for the developing world, which is one of his two main research interests – the other being developing tools to study tumor progression in vivo. Technologies developed by Dr. Zaman are in various stages of implementation in several countries. In 2013, Scientific American listed one of them among the 10 technologies that will change the world. He has won numerous awards for his research and teaching.
Highlights from the presentations included several projects that showed promising results. These included projects that: - studied a component of an edible plant to tap into its cancer-fighting activity. - studied the rising prevalence of autism among children in Lebanon - gained greater understanding of breast cancer in Lebanon, where there are more cases among young women than in the West. - uncovered a potential direct link between vitamin D and immunity - highlighted the financial barriers that prevent children from having regular dental check-ups - underscored the need to vaccinate very young and very old populations against the bacteria streptococcus pneumoniae in order to reduce mortality from this bacteria, which causes many diseases including pneumonia and meningitis. - uncovered a trend showing that prostate cancer is being detected at later stages in Lebanon, which might point to poorly executed screening programs - highlighted the need for more studies on bullying among middle school-aged children, who are getting bullied at the rate of one in three students. - studied the ability of sumac extracts to protect cells from oxidative stress, by testing on fish; the result was enhanced viability of embryos. - Studied the anti-cancerous effect of phytoestrogens on breast and ovarian cancers - uncovered a mild iodine deficiency among the majority of children in Lebanon, despite the availability of iodized table salt; iodine deficiency can impair growth and development. - highlighted physicians’ faulty beliefs that pharmaceutical companies’ marketing campaigns do not affect their prescription behavior
A jury composed of researchers and scholars from various departments studied the submissions and presentations in terms of scientific content, methodology, and presentation and defense of results. They announced the winners in the following categories:
• BIOMEDICAL: “Distribution of Area Fraction of Pores in Cortical Bone’s Pericortical and Intracortical Regions” by Ilige Hage, FEA • CANCER: “Effect of Connexin 43 Loss on Polarity and Initiation of Tumorigenic Pathways in the Phenotypically Normal Breast Epithelium” by Dana Bazzoun, FAS • CLINICAL I: “Efficacy of Adalimumab Stored in Plastic Vials at Four Degrees Celsius” by Maamoun Abdul Fattah and Sara Al Ghadban, FM • CLINICAL II: “Phosphorus Supplementation Abolished Weight Loss of Rats Maintained on Low Protein Diet” by Rola Hammoud, FAFS •OTHER: “Knock-out of the bradyzoite marker p18 in Toxoplasma gondii: insights towards a functional characterization during neurotoxoplasmosis” by Nadim Tawil, FM
Additionally The Farouk Jabre Award was presented to four faculty members working in interdisciplinary research.
The Farouk Jabre Award is a one-year grant awarded to faculty from different backgrounds who identify a common area of interest and, using their different areas of knowledge, would collaborate on a research topic. The awardees for this year are:
• Dr.’s Firas Kobaissy and Hala Darwish from FM and Dr. Pierre Karam from FAS for their sudy, "Developing sensitive and specific biosensor for traumatic brain injury biomarkers"
• Dr. Diana Jaalouk from FAS and Dr.’s Marwan Refaat and Georges Nemer from FM for their study, “Insight into the deregulation of Hic-5 and Rbm20 in LaminA/C and emerin related cardiomyopathies.”
• Dr.’s Fadl Moukalled and Samir Alam from FM for their study, “The development of a novel low computational cost non-invasive direct method to predict ischemia in human diseased coronary arteries.”
• Dr. Rihab Nasr from FM and Dr. Rabih Talhouk from FAS for their study, “miRNA as Circulating Biomarkers for Breast.”
• Dr. Md Anwarul Hasan from FEA and Dr. Ayad Jaffa from FM for their study, “Development of a biomimetic blood vessel using multilayered composite nano-microfiber scaffolds for cardiovascular tissue engineering.”
The Tripoli branch of the Lebanese University’s faculty of economics and business has been rocked by recent protests. But the demonstrators were not demanding lower tuition fees or higher standards at the state-run university, which provides almost free education for more than 70,000 students.
Instead, the protesters were mainly drawn from civil society groups and rival Sunni political parties, including supporters of the Future Movement and former Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
They were objecting to a decision by university President Adnan Sayyed Hussein to appoint a non-Sunni as director of the Tripoli branch. The Future Movement viewed Sayyed Hussein’s appointment of Christian Professor Antoine Tannous as the final straw in what they view as ongoing sectarian discrimination in the appointment of directors. Tannous is close to MP Sleiman Frangieh’s Marada Movement.
The group alleges that Sayyed Hussein has ignored the tradition of maintaining an equal number of Sunni and Shiite LU directors, a norm which had prevailed in previous years.
They also complain that Sayyed Hussein, a former minister close to Hezbollah, does not discuss the appointment of Sunni directors with parties which represent the sect, whereas he confers with Shiite parties on the nomination of Shiite director.
According to Amer Halawani, head of the Future Movement’s education office in Tripoli, Sayyed Hussein is applying a double standard in his selection of new directors.
“The president discusses the appointment of Shiite directors with Shiite leaders, but appoints Sunni directors without consulting the political parties which represent Sunnis,” he told The Daily Star. “The weakest Sunnis are then appointed so that they will obey orders.”
Halawani added that in many cases, the opinions of Christian parties were also not being taken into consideration before the appointment of Christian directors.
“This has been the case for a long time, but it is only receiving media coverage after [the protests] in Tripoli,” Halawani alleged.
Halawani added that neither the dean of the faculty of business and economics nor the directors of its six faculty branches across the country were Sunnis.
“All what we are asking is that all groups be dealt with fairly. If the president wants to use solely academic criteria to govern appointments, and to ignore sectarian and political affiliations, then let this apply to all groups.”
“If he chooses instead to confer with political parties before making the appointments, then he must do so with all of them.”
Sayyed Hussein has strongly denied the allegations.
“I do not discuss appointments with any political leader. I choose the director of the branch from three candidates selected by all the branches [of the faculty],” Sayyed Hussein told The Daily Star.
Eleven of LU’s 16 faculties have several branches across the country.
He added that this procedure was stipulated in Law 66, which was amended in 2009.
“It is the university president – rather than the minister, sheikh, or party leader – who appoints directors,” Sayyed Hussein said. “When I meet Speaker Nabih Berri, I meet him in his capacity as speaker rather than as a Shiite leader. I discuss decrees and draft laws with him [related to the Lebanese University].”
“I also meet Prime Minister Tammam Salam as part of running the affairs of the university – because he is the prime minister, not because he is a Sunni leader.
Halawani complained that Sayyed Hussein had ignored the norm of a sectarian balance in the number of directors, stating there were now 13 Shiite to 11 Sunni directors across Lebanon.
But the LU president contended that there were actually 12 Sunni directors. “Rawiya Majzoub, director of the Lebanese University’s Restoration Center, is a Sunni, but they [the Future Movement] don’t count her because she is not politically affiliated with them,” Sayyed Hussein said.
He added that according to Law 66, sectarian balance is not the only consideration of appointment.
“It depends on the sects of the candidates presented to the president. Muslims might number more than Christians, and Sunnis more than Shiites, but there are always directors from various sects.”
Sayyed Hussein added that he has appointed 38 directors to replace those whose terms expired this year, adding that 11 others have yet to be selected, and that upcoming appointments would help address the issue of balance.
“If Shiite directors outnumber Sunni directors by one, this does not warrant calling for protests and accusing the university president of sectarian bias,” the president said.
“It is not my job to distribute equal shares to political parties. I am disgusted when the issue is raised as such,” he said.
In light of the Tripoli protests, Sayyed Hussein suspended Tannous’ appointment and tasked Ghassan Shlouq, the dean of the faculty, with managing the Tripoli branch.
The move angered Education Minister Elias Bou Saab, who stated that the Christian director should not pay the price for altering the level of Sunni representation.
He claimed that Sayyed Hussein was addressing the issue irresponsibly, and was mishandling other LU affairs as well.
Bou Saab alleged that Sayyed Hussein did not properly consider the appointment or subsequent dismissal of LU directors, saying such behavior intensified sectarian tensions.
He also warned of a worsening crisis at the university in coming weeks.
Sayyed Hussein contended that he decided to suspend the appointment of Tannous after the issue took on a sectarian dimension, and gunmen joined the protests in Tripoli.
“Stability is more important than any one appointment, and Dr. Tannous can head another branch in the north,” he said.
Responding to Bou Saab’s criticisms, Sayyed Hussein said: “I will not bicker with the minister. He knows very well that I have to appoint one director out of three candidates. Appointing directors is in line with my powers. Anyone who advocates the independence of the university should help me implement the law and achieve independence for the university.”