AUB Political

Political commentary by a student at the American University of Beirut

Month: October, 2016

Three Elections in Nine Days

On Monday October 31, the self-extended Lebanese Parliament will most likely elect former army general Michel Aoun to the presidency of the Lebanese Republic (or what remains of it). According to Education Minister Elias Bou Saab, schools will be closed on this day and universities will be encouraged to do so as “Monday is a historic day and the beginning of a new era for Lebanon.”

On this same day, cabinet elections for each of the six Student Representative Committees at the American University of Beirut are to be held too, but AUB, it seems, has listened to Minister Bou Saab’s call, and classes at the university, for all faculties except Medicine, will not be held, postponing these elections until Tuesday, November 1.

A week later on Monday November 7, cabinet elections for the University Student Faculty Committee, AUB’s version of a university-wide student government, will be held. In this session, the Vice-President of the USFC, the supposed most-coveted student seat on campus, will be elected. One day later on November 8, the American people will elect the president of their federal republic, who will most likely be Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Three election cycles – AUB, Lebanon, and the U.S. – should be completed in the space of nine days. At AUB, this cycle began only in early October (although one could argue that some students have been campaigning for several months). In Lebanon, the election of Aoun should spell the end of two years and a half of a presidential vacuum. On the world stage, it is quite obvious which election is (by far) the most relevant and which the least. By November 9, we will most likely be living in a world where Aoun and Clinton have finally reached the climax of their political lives (and Donald Trump has been defeated). So how will this affect our campus politics?

Clinton will not assume office until January 2017, so the world will have to wait a little until we see the former Secretary of State in action. Donald Trump will have been officially defeated (like the Batman villain he is) and that alone will have an impact, as everything with The Donald does, I am sure. But Michel Aoun in Lebanon could be sworn in as early as October 31.

So then, how will Michel Aoun’s presidency impact AUB politics? For starters, the mere possibility of his presidency seems to already have had its impact. The March 8 coalition on campus does not seem as rigid as it has been in previous years, barring last year’s shenanigans. Murmurs are also now being heard of a Christian-Christian (FPM[1] – LF[2]) alliance in next Fall’s elections (after some eleven years of the “March” coalition alliances on campus). The relationship between Speaker Berri’s Harakat Amal and the FPM, as it is outside AUB’s walls, seems, at the moment of writing, in tatters after the FPM did not gain any seats in the USFC nor their beloved FEA SRC, while Amal and Hezbollah have garnered 7 and 6 respectively.

The point of this brief post is simply registering an entry for this blog’s archives. History will be made in these nine days in the Lebanese and US elections. What effect it will have on AUB elections and politics, which can be observed in (the breaking and formation of new) alliances, I am excited to find out.

A Brief Note on SRC and USFC Cabinet Elections

As a member of the AUB community, you may hear the terms round one, round two, and round three being thrown around with respect to student elections.

The origin of these terms dates back to the electoral law that was used before the Fall 2012 elections, where students elected their respective faculty SRC (in whichever of the six faculties – each has one SRC – they belonged to) – round one. Subsequently, the SRC members, elected from amongst their members, representatives from the faculty to the USFC (who would become USFC members) – round two. The USFC, with its newly elected members, would then meet and select its cabinet (VP, treasurer, secretary) and committees – round three.

With students now electing USFC members directly, these terms – no, the pacing of the process itself – seem out of place. Why are SRC cabinet elections held two weeks after Election Day? And USFC cabinet elections held a week later after that? This postpones actual work in these committees for two (effectively four) and three (effectively five) weeks. With this new electoral law in place, there seems no reason for there to be a round two and round three that are paced one week apart. The only thing it seems to do is prolong two things: the so-called negotiation process between the parties involved in the electoral game and the actual assumption of office and pursuit of the agenda of student demands within these committees.

Issam Kayssi
AUB Student

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The White House (1792), the Baabda Palace (1956) and AUB’s West Hall (1914)

[1] Michel Aoun’s political party, the Free Patriotic Movement

[2] Lebanese Forces, headed by Samir Geagea

In Defense of the Offensive

A version of this piece was published as OP-ED in AUB’s Outlook newspaper on October 11.

Ideas matter. Exposing ourselves to ideas that challenge our own is an important and crucial part of our college education. It is thus imperative, as students especially, to fight for the freedom of speech, as it is necessary for our exposure to these ideas.

Freedom of speech was under attack at AUB last week when the Insight Club launched its Weigh Your Words campaign. According to this student club, “freedom of speech does not equal offending others”; you are not free to articulate your opinion if it clashes with someone else’s beliefs.

So, what if I claim that I am offended by this whole campaign and its support of censoring speech? It strikes at the core of one of my beliefs. Where does this leave me and anyone who shares this viewpoint?

I write these words in an attempt to genuinely address students in the Insight Club before anyone else. I ask you as my fellow students: who exactly decides what is ‘offensive’ (a subjective concept)? Is it any individual who ‘takes offence’? Is it a majority (half plus one) of individuals in a society? Who exactly do you trust to decide if speech is or is not offensive? If you ask me, I would not hand over this power (the power to decide) to anyone. History shows us that anyone given this kind of authority will abuse it for their benefit (by silencing dissent).

I am troubled because you are AUB students receiving a very important idea, it seems to me, only at face value. Freedom of speech was not fought for and won over as a right to protect speech that the majority of individuals in society agree with. It was instituted to protect those who disagree and to protect their right to offend in their disagreement. Otherwise, what use is there for it?

I believe that you are doing a disservice to yourselves whenever you tune out someone you disagree with before hearing them out. You deny yourselves, before anyone else, the opportunity to hear something. Especially at university, your opportunity to be exposed is as crucial as the right of others to voice their opinions. It gives you the chance to think about how you know what you know.

Furthermore, the person using speech you consider offensive is someone whose voice, especially, should be protected. This person must have taken some time to come up with what they are saying, and it might even contain some reason. At the end of the day, what will happen if you allow yourself to be exposed to ideas without any limits? At worst, you will hear something that does not hold up to reason, and this will only reaffirm your beliefs and refine your arguments. At best, you will be introduced to an idea that may change your whole outlook on life. And that’s worth the risk, isn’t it?

Issam Kayssi
AUB Student

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