AUB Political

Political commentary by a student at the American University of Beirut

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A Letter to a Historian in the Future

This is Professor Samer Frangie’s article on Aleppo, originally published in Al-Hayat in Arabic, and translated to English by Reem Harb, Roa Harb, and Siba Harb. I share the latter with you here.

You might receive an invitation to a conference exploring the root causes of the collapse of the Middle East. Or perhaps, you are simply interested in studying this region, home to your people before the collapse that prompted their exile and migration. Or maybe, you are just curious about events that took place half a century ago. I do not know, but in any case you will one day return to this pivotal year in order to understand your present, a present that has been forged out of this collapse. You will visit a library and find hundreds of books about the causes of the collapse: the rise of ethnic identities, the economic recessions, the collapse of the “illusion” that we once called the ‘center’.

Your present may have reconciled itself to the rule of the extreme right and normalized its racist ideology. I do not know. It is also possible that this wave has already passed following the wars and the destruction it caused, and your research has led you to hold previous generations accountable for the rise of that wave. I do not know.
In any case, you will only be able to revisit this period through the bookshelves that separate your present from your past, or our present. You will find numerous studies written about the “Arab Spring” and many more standing next to them about the “Arab Fall.” You can simply ignore them. They were hastily written and exclusively meant to secure some fame to intellectuals whose only breakthrough was the play on the notions of spring and fall.

You may also ignore another bookshelf, the one with the books in black covers about a group we called “Daesh,” of which you may not have heard. This fundamentalist group had constituted the fabric of all of our obsessions before we discovered that the wars we waged against it endured for decades after its demise and even after it faded from our memories. Back then, we produced loads of books to frighten ourselves because we were slightly bored and we found something that could both terrify and exhilarate us.

On the other hand, you will not find many books about Syria, that country that was at the roots of what you now might be calling as “Useful Syria.” The few books that you will find talk of a revolution that started in 2011 before it “deviated” from its noble course. You will not find many studies on this topic for the years 2011-2016 because it was a “complicated” period for the intellectuals of our time who could not understand what was going on. And so they preferred to remain silent – the only time they chose to halt the endless mill of speech. Following this period of silence, you will find a torrent of studies about the need for dialogue, reconciliation, and the reconstruction of Aleppo, the city that was inaugurated after its reconstruction by the son of the late president Bashar Al-Assad. You may think there is little of research interest here, nothing more than the garden-variety disputes in a country ruled by a ‘progressive’ tyrant. Once, there existed backward tribes that staged a rural revolt against the urban centers, co-opting the mosques to eliminate pluralism, all because of the drought. This is what the Arabic language teacher at the University of Damascus will tell you when you visit this city where tradition and modernity meet as the billboard in the airport indicates proudly. This is also what your dissertation supervisor will confirm as he steers you to more important research questions such as the orientalist discourse in car advertisements or the role the west played in the Arab revolutions. In most likelihood, Russian imperialism would not have been elevated yet to the status of a research topic.

The scenario could be different. You might have heard of Aleppo and its destruction. Perhaps, this city, or one of its neighborhoods would have gone down in history alongside Guernica, Dresden, or Deir Yassin as icons of destruction and murder, only serving as harbingers of the dark times laying ahead. You may find some oil sketches here or some poetry verses there speaking of this city. You might stumble upon such verses in your search for some imagery to use in the introduction of your dissertation. And the question you never asked your parents but which has haunted you, will come back. “How did you consent to such destruction, killing and displacement?” Therein lies the advice of this letter: Stop at this question, at Aleppo and at the Syrian revolution. For this is where the story began. From the vantage of your present, you might not be able to see the pivotal importance of the Syrian Revolution, for the silence of which I spoke to you earlier would have squandered it. You may find numerous writings accusing those who used the word “revolution” of appealing to an ideology that contradicted reality, and from your perspective, this accusation may seem valid. But today, fifty years before your read this letter, Aleppo is burning. And the term revolution is all we have left so that we do not participate in this murder. So forgive us our misuse of these concepts.

Go back to Aleppo and ask us why we acquiesced. Do not waste your time searching for a connection between the price of oil and the massacres, or the growth of the Russian empire and the destruction, or even on metaphysical analyses of discourse and its inherent complexities. Do not delve deep and simply ask us how we acquiesced. Do not hold us responsible because you too could have accepted the destruction as we did. But do not forgive us either. Stay at the surface where you will find everything you need. If a text or a book tells you that we did not know, be sure that is falsehood. Do not feel that your distance from the events disqualifies you from being certain of that. We knew. We understood. We all knew the names of the dead. We have photos of every martyred infant and videos of every wounded who fell. And we have farewell letters written moment before the fall. You are not likely to find them in your library, but they were available to us. The people of Aleppo tried to communicate with us by letters, by photos, by videos, by prayers, by jokes and by screams. But for some reason, we did not respond back. We knew, so do not abandon your question: How did you let it happen?

Stay at the surface, for Aleppo’s moment was the moment that the world decided to compress and release all that was deep to the surface. Perhaps you have not lived moments like these, and you are fortunate, for these were dark moments. Aleppo was the moment the world decided it had tired from even going through the motions. It was the moment a clown was elected President, a tyrant became the free world’s champion, and world leaders competed to abet a criminal. You might not understand how we hit rock bottom. We did not understand either. But we knew. After this moment, all shame was lost when the institutions had already collapsed and violence had become the norm. If you are interested in the collapse, do not go far or deep, stay at Aleppo’s ravaged surface and you will understand how all can be lost in a single moment.

I cannot tell what will have taken place between this letter and your present. Perhaps the world will have learned from Aleppo and awoken from this madness. Perhaps this madness will have led to wars which compelled the world to face its moment of abandon. But perhaps all of this will not have happened, and you will still be living in a world which thinks the Assads are the best this region can offer. I do not know. What is certain, in any of these cases, is that this region has collapsed. And if there is still one thing that we can pass on to you from all this rubble, it is this: Remember Aleppo, not as an icon of impossible heroisms or the necessary price for an ideological revolution but as a moment, a moment when the world decided in full awareness and in cold blood to give up on itself.

Samer Frangie is Director of the Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies (CAMES) and Associate Professor at the Department of Political Studies and Public Administration (PSPA), both at AUB. His research and teaching interest includes the intellectual and political histories of the modern Middle East and contemporary social theory. He has published a number of articles on the intellectual history of the Arab Left and is currently working on a book manuscript on the memory of the left. Aside from his academic work, he has published extensively in the Arab press.

Hipster student studying in library

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


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


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

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.

Screen Shot 2015-12-25 at 7.48.12 PM

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.



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:


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]


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


[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

On the 2015 FEA-USFC Elections

Three weeks ago, AUB student elections seemed to be “hanging in the balance.” Somehow, the university managed to have them on time, despite a questionable electoral law. Students ultimately accepted the absurd electoral law – announced on November 10 and changed on November 16 – and participated in the elections. One would think that the student body would have seen enough absurdity for one semester but it appears not. It seems that the administration cannot even follow the rules it announces itself. Ladies and gentlemen, it is once gain the case of the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (FEA).

On November 10, the first electoral law announcement was made. For FEA, it simply stated: “3 USFC seats are allocated.”

On November 16, a day before nominations, the second electoral law announcement was made. The change was just in FEA. It stated: “3 USFC seats are allocated. In FEA 1 seat is open to all students (including engineering undergraduates, architecture, graphic design and graduates) and 2 seats will be open for nominations from undergraduate engineering only (excluding architecture, graphic design and graduates).”

The Candidates for the 3 FEA-USFC seats are:

Candidate, Year, Nomination

  1. Ali Ayoub, Engineering IV, FEA Undergraduate
  2. Cesar Bteish, Engineering III, FEA Undergraduate
  3. Kamal Mahfouz, Engineering II, FEA
  4. Mohamad El Khatib, Engineering II, FEA
  5. Monah Beaini, Engineering III, FEA Undergraduate
  6. Reem Nassour, Architecture III, FEA
  7. Thierry Boulos, Engineering IV, FEA Undergraduate
  8. Tony Narciss, Engineering IV, FEA Undergraduate

Tony Narciss is an example of one engineering undergraduate who nominated himself for the USFC. Narciss campaigned for days on end with all FEA students: engineering undergraduates but also architecture, graphic design, and graduate students. On Election Day, architecture, graphic design, and graduate students did not even have the option to vote for Narciss. They only had the choice to vote for 3 candidates for the USFC: Kamal Mahfouz, Mohamad El Khatib, and Reem Nassour, two of whom (Khatib and Mahfouz) were engineering undergrads. The engineering undergrads, on the other hand, had the option to vote for all 8 candidates listed above, including the 3 also offered to architecture, graphic design, and graduates. Many students can attest that this is in fact what the electronic voting system offered them (only a choice of 3 out of the 8 names). Eleven of them, below, are willing to publicly testify to this.

  • Andrea Comair – Architecture III
  • Betina Abi Habib – Architecture IV
  • Farah Mazyad – Graphic Design II
  • Ibrahim Abdelghany – Engineering Graduate
  • Karen Madi – Architecture III
  • Karma Makki – Architecture II
  • Mario Khoury – Architecutre III
  • Mohamad Nahleh – Architecture III
  • Ramzey Marrouche – Graphic Design I
  • Serge Saab – Architecture III
  • Souha Bou Matar – Architecture III

The November 16 announcement stated that 2 seats would be open for nominations for engineering undergraduates only, but nowhere did it say that those seats would be voted upon by engineering undergraduates only. This is what the second announcement states; not more, not less. This is how candidates ran their campaigns, and this is how students expected to vote.

Electoral laws are judged based on the official university announcements and not on any informal conversations held between random students and the Dean of Student Affairs. Many students like Andrea and Betina above arrived to AUB on November 27, showed their ID at the various checkpoints inside the Bechtel building, went behind the curtain with the intention of voting for 3 out of the 8 candidates. What they got instead was only a choice between three. The least students should expect of their university is an administration that enforces the laws that it announces itself. The least FEA students should ask for is a re-vote in their USFC elections. Unfortunately, following the letter of the law seems like too big of an ask these days.

Issam Kayssi
AUB Student



USFC Electoral Law: Another year of gerrymandering

In 1982, Major-General Ghazi Kanaan was appointed as Syria’s military intelligence chief in Lebanon. Hafez al-Assad, whose troops first entered Lebanon in 1976, would go on (along with his allies) to win the Lebanese Civil War in 1990. Until 2002, Kanaan would act as Assad’s (the father and then the son’s) viceroy in Lebanon. Kanaan was the power broker of Lebanese politics: he was said to have had the last word on many key decisions during that era.

The agreement that ended the Lebanese Civil War, the Ta’if Accord, stipulated that electoral districts shall be the six muhafazat. Parliamentary seats shall be divided equally between Christians and Muslims, proportionately between the denominations of each sect, and proportionately between the districts.

Under Kanaan, Lebanon witnessed its first post-war parliamentary elections in 1992. Four years later in 1996 it would have its second, and in 2000 its third. Each of these elections had a different electoral law.

At the American University of Beirut (AUB), for each of the past three years, exceptional electoral laws have been dictating student elections to the University Student Faculty Committee (USFC). Since 2012-13, students have been directly voting-in their USFC student representatives.

The electoral districts for the USFC are the university’s six faculties. The number of seats allocated to each faculty in the USFC was weighted based on the number of students of each faculty way before 2012. The largest faculty, Arts and Sciences (FAS), was given five seats for example. Small faculties like that of Health Sciences (FHS) were given two seats each. These weights carried on into our era of exceptionalism (post 2012).

Back on the national level, the 1996 Law, which was enforced by the Lebanese government as an exceptional measure, divided the muhafaza of Mount Lebanon into several electoral districts while leaving the others untouched. Opponents of this statute argued that the division was designed to favour certain candidates of one group over those of another. The 2000 Law, also known as Ghazi Kanaan’s Law, was also accused for its gerrymandering of votes to ensure favorable results for Syria’s allies. Districts, like that of North Lebanon for example, were re-arranged to engineer such results.


Ghazi Kanaan and Lebanon’s electoral districts under him

On the university level, the 2015 Law, to be used for the elections on Friday, November 27 (the first time it has been held on a Friday), was recently announced. Yesterday, Outlook dedicated the whole of its second page to presenting this law, but even what the official student newspaper published was inconsistent between the the diagram and the text that accompanied it.

This is probably because the 2015 Law was announced twice this year. On November 10 the administration sent an email stating that all eligible students of the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (FEA) could nominate themselves and vote for three seats in the USFC. On November 16, another announcement was made, and all eligible FEA students would now only be able to nominate themselves for one of the three seats with the two remaining seats open to engineering undergraduate students only – thus excluding architecture/design and graduate students – but voted on by all. The reason for this change was not included in the announcement.

When comparing the 2015 USFC Law with its predecessors, many questions can be raised. The 2012 Law dictated that, for FEA, one of the three USFC seats was for architecture/design and graduate students and the remaining two were similarly exclusive for engineering undergraduates. The two voting pools did not mix. The 2013 Law added another exclusive seat to engineering undergraduates. The 2015 Law not only eliminated the seat allocated for architecture/design (and graduates) but also turned the formula on its head! A special “reservation” for seats was given to engineering undergraduates. Usually quotas, if ever used in electoral laws, are created for groups that constitute some sort of minority, but the engineering undergraduates actually constitute the vast majority of FEA.


The USFC’s electoral composition

The case of FEA in the 2015 Law is one of bizarre change from the 2012 and 2013 laws. This does not mean, however, that the previous laws made much sense. Like the parliamentary laws on the national level, it is hard to find a consistency in any iteration of the AUB laws. The 2012 Law divided the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) into five different voting pools based on student status. FAS sophomores, for example, can run and vote for 1 USFC seat. While the seats of the Olayan School of Business (OSB) remain open game to all: sophomore, junior, senior, and graduate can run and vote for up to three seats. The addition of an exclusive engineering undergraduate seat to FEA in the 2013 Law was complimented with making the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences (FAFS) a free-for-all faculty (like OSB), with the reasons never officially announced.

The absurdity of the changes made in the electoral laws at the AUB in the past three years channels the spirit of the late Ghazi Kanaan. While the parliamentary laws under the late Major-General were designed to ensure favourable results for those Syria looked favourably upon, it is up to students, on the university level, to find out to which political group/s this year’s USFC law (and those that precede it) benefit(ed). The answer to the question, in the case of the 2015 Law, may be found by investigating what happened in the six days between the two announcements of November 10 and November 16.

Issam Kayssi
AUB Student

AUB student elections: Why are they always “hanging in the balance?”

Every fall it seems, one or several pieces are published in Outlook about the plight of student elections at AUB. These elections, which usually take place in November, always seem to be “hanging in the balance.” The recurring theme for three years now has been the electoral laws that dictate the election to the Student Representative Committees (SRCs) of each of the six faculties and to the University Student Faculty Committee (USFC).

In most elected councils, electoral laws are not easy to amend so as not to allow any newly-elected simple majority to change the rules of the game in its favor once it reaches power. The bylaws of the SRC and USFC are no different and require, as a first step, a two-third vote by the respective committee for any bylaw amendment. So, why is it then that the AUB community has been having an “electoral law discussion” just before elections every year?

Student elections were held at AUB for the first time after the Civil War in January 1994. From 1994 until Fall 2011, AUB was witness to some nineteen student elections based on the following format. (1) Students elect representatives to their respective faculty SRC. (2) The elected SRC members of each faculty then elect, from amongst themselves, members to represent the respective Faculty in the USFC. For example, a Biology student would elect from their level one or several representatives to the SRC of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS). The elected members of the FAS SRC (ranging in number between the 20s and the 30s over the years) would then elect from amongst them 5 members to the USFC. For more than eighteen years, student elections were held at AUB in this way without the pre-elections crises this generation of students has become accustomed to.

On October 10, 2012, the Dean of Student Affairs sent his annual email to the student body, announcing the details of 2012-13 student elections. The Dean stated:

To further improve the process and in the spirit of direct representation the elections this year will allow students to vote directly for their representatives in the University Student Faculty Committee simultaneously during the SRC elections.

This piece is not one where I will be giving my take on the best-suited electoral law for student elections at AUB. This piece is to shed light on why we are in a mess three years later in 2015.

In the fall of 2012, by sending this email, the Dean of Student Affairs took a unilateral decision to amend the USFC bylaws based on what he saw fit, given the circumstances. First, any amendment of the bylaws should have been proposed by an absolute majority of the entire voting USFC members of 2011-12. Second, the proposed amendments should have been voted upon by a two-thirds majority of the entire voting USFC members of 2011-12. Third, the amendments should have been subject to final approval by the University Senate and the president of the University (Article XIII, USFC bylaws). There is no evidence, neither in the meeting minutes of the USFC nor of the Senate, that this ever happened.

Elections were held almost a month later on November 13, 2012 based on a presumably illegal electoral law. Seventeen student members reached the USFC based on this law, two of them realizing it after joining the committee. These two student members worked with the Dean on a new draft for USFC bylaws to try to “fix” this breach.

In Fall 2013, this draft was presented to the Senate. Under the article on Composition of this draft was the following statement:

Sections 1 and 2 [determining the electoral law] of this article have been left undetermined intentionally for one USFC term for the 2013/2014 academic year only. The election format for this academic year will need to be approved by a 2/3 vote of the entire voting membership of the USFC. If an agreement is not reached by the required 2/3 USFC vote by Friday 11 October 2013 the Dean of Student Affairs can determine the electoral process for the 2013/2014 academic year only.

This statement was considered problematic by the Senate because it gave the Dean the right to decide (over actual elected USFC members) the composition of the USFC. It also included a specific date (“Friday 11 October 2013”) in the bylaws (bylaws are supposed to be timeless). The Senate, pressed for time before the elections, approved a motion to approve these amended bylaws for one year only until the article on Composition (the electoral law) is resolved, thus granting the Dean authority to decide the electoral process for one year only: 2013-14.

Fast-forward a full year to Fall 2014 and the article on Composition was yet to be resolved. The Senate, this time more reluctantly, approved the Dean’s motion to repeat the decision of the year before for another one year only: 2014-15. It is worth mentioning that the Dean took this as an opportunity to change the composition of the SRC of each of the six faculties that year in another unilateral, centralized act.

Fast-forward a full year to Fall 2015 and (you guessed it) the article on Composition is still not resolved. This time the USFC bylaws were not even placed as an agenda item for the University Senate meeting of October. Fearing for a postponement or a cancelation of student elections, one senator moved to place this item on the agenda during the meeting. The item was discussed and, breaking with the unfortunate trend of the previous two years, a motion was approved to push for elections before the end of November based on the last approved bylaws. I leave it to readers to decide whether the latest email sent by the Dean of Student Affairs on November 10, 2015 (pasted in the comments below) is in compliance with the “last approved bylaws.”

So, why have elections been “hanging in the balance” for the last three years? In a interview published last week by Outlook, the Dean believes that it is because “each [group] is fighting for their own little ’empire’.” Perhaps this is true, but maybe students would not be in this situation today had the Dean not been playing the role of emperor since 2012.

Issam Kayssi
AUB Student