Congratulations, AUB students: Nabih Berri now decides your Vice-President!

by issamkayssi

On December 9, 2015 the University Student Faculty Committee (USFC) at the American University of Beirut (AUB), the student members of which had then been newly-elected, held its first meeting.

The attendees included AUB and USFC President Fadlo Khuri, Dean of Student Affairs Talal Nizameddin, Associate Dean Charbel Tarraf, Coordinator of Student Activities Hiba Hamade, all 17 newly elected student members, and 5 out of the 7 faculty members at the start of the meeting. Professor Nada Melhem of FHS was away and Professor Farid Talih of FM arrived just after the election of the Vice-President. The main purpose of the meeting was the election of the USFC Cabinet positions. By the end of the meeting, 22 votes would be polled for the Vice-Presidency and 23 for the Secretary and Treasurer positions. The events of and surrounding this meeting I will attempt to shed light on in this piece.

Rewind to November 28, the day after the results of the student elections were announced, and Lebanese newspapers (the ones that did cover the issue) reported the same result: a comprehensive win for the March 8 alliance[1]. It was stated that the March 8 alliance had secured 9 seats. The March 14 alliance[2] secured 4 and the independent Secular Club another 4.

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That day, Outlook published an article titled “AUB’s majority wants Change” in reference to the Students for Change campaign that March 8 ran. The word on campus in the then-following week was that March 8 would reach the coveted USFC Cabinet positions, with Hezbollah securing the Vice-Presidency for its Engineering candidate. But Harakat Amal had other plans.

By the morning of December 9, there would be 3 candidates for the Vice-Presidency. Hezbollah would have its candidate (the one and only from Engineering), the Secular Club had a candidate (to be revealed to the Committee within the meeting), and an (un)surprising alliance of Harakat Amal and March 14 had a candidate: FAS graduate student Monzer Hamwi. (The FPM seemed torn between its two “Round 1” allies and appeared undecided until later in the day.)

At 5:00 pm, the USFC members began gathering in West Hall Room 310 and the Cabinet Elections proceeded after administrators made their respective announcements. The election for Committee Vice-President would be first. Reem Abou Ibrahim of the Secular Club’s Campus Choice campaign was revealed to be the first nominee, followed by Hezbollah’s Ali Ayoub, and finally the Amal-led alliance’s Monzer Hamwi. Abou Ibrahim and Ayoub gave their respective presentations to the Committee while Hamwi surprisingly refused, claiming he had a “technical error.” After the presentations, the voting process followed and Hamwi, much to the dismay of many, secured the plurality of the Committee’s votes to become the Vice-President.

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The election for Committee Secretary came next, for which two candidates competed: Medicine student Jamal Al Ali of the Secular Club and Mohamed El Khatib of the Future Movement. The result saw Jamal Al Ali secure a majority of 13 votes (to El Khatib’s 10) to become the Secretary. After that came the Treasurer position which was secured by Engineering’s Cesar Bteish (FPM) with a majority of 14 votes to the 8 of FHS Graduate Rachel Bteiche (Secular Club), with one abstention.

Much can be said, politically, about this result. Why did Harakat Amal break its alliance with Hezbollah in the USFC Cabinet Elections? What did the Future Movement and March 14 gain from such a deal with Amal? Was there a conscious decision behind the FPM splitting its two votes for the Vice-Presidency or did the candidates decide on the spot? Did the country’s unique political dynamics at the time – like the nomination of Sleiman Frangieh to the Presidency of the Republic – play any role in the March 8 alliance’s schism?

One thing is for sure: Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri played his part in these results. In an unintentionally farcical in-depth interview the USFC VP Hamwi gave to Outlook on December 21, a recipe for reaching the Vice-Presidency of the USFC was generously revealed to the student body:

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First, prepare ahead of time. Clear your schedule for the whole of December– no, the whole year as you don’t know when the need to visit ‘Ain at-Tineh will arise. According to Hamwi, you can “win under one condition: go with [Amal] to Nabih Berri’s palace.”

Second, there are many unnecessary attributes you may want to dispense of. Forget about transparency, consistency, and even your long-term memory. According to the VP, you should master the art of “fooling a stranger” (but not your friends, of course, whom you “see everyday”). Be ready to shift between publicly declaring yourself an independent candidate to declaring allegiance to Harakat Amal.

Third, zero to inaccurate knowledge about AUB’s electoral law is all that is required. You may even want to (incorrectly) believe it is or has ever been based on “departments.”

Fourth, you and your family should expect to receive threatening calls ahead of your nomination. To appropriately deal with this, do not consider officially relaying this information in the first USFC meeting. Instead, arrive on Cabinet Election Day and claim that you had a “technical error” with your candidacy presentation. Do not attempt to give the presentation in order to “decrease [your] chance of winning.” However, after winning, confidently rejoice about the victory in a public interview.

These steps are only a few of many that may yet to be fully revealed. Do not let your confidence be shaken when the student masses question you based on this recipe. You can always accuse Outlook of publishing your interview with “changes” and “paraphrasing” to muddy the water. Pay no attention to the fact that the newspaper “transcribed the recording word for word, as they were said, and the records are still available for proof.”[3]

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On November 27, as an FAS graduate student, I addressed Monzer Hamwi, the newly-elected (still-publicly-claiming-independence) USFC representative from my voting pool, with the following comment on the Outlook Facebook page (the post has since been deleted by a page administrator):

You wanted it at any cost and you got it. Congratulations. Maybe you’re new to AUB elections, but the truth always comes out in the end.

Hamwi replied that he was “not new to AUB elections” and that I will see later what his choices are, for which I thanked him and wished him good luck. One month later, after being elected to the Vice-Presidency, one thing I am sure of is that the now-VP Hamwi is finding himself in a very peculiar position, if he ever manages to last in it.

Issam Kayssi
AUB Student

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[1] Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), Harakat Amal, and Hezbollah
[2] Future Movement and the Lebanese Forces were joined, for the second consecutive year, by the Progressive Youth Organization
[3] Dana Kambriss, Associate Editor of Outlook

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