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LEBANON: Campus elections are a preview of national vote

November 8, 2008 | 10:10 am

Aub_2America's grueling elections may be over. But on the campus of the American University of Beirut, a potentially explosive campaign season is just getting started.

In less than two months, student council elections reflecting the political fragmentation among Lebanese youth will take place.

On AUB's leafy campus, rumors circulate about who will run for what office and how the vote will be managed.

AUB has often been a magnet for the elite of Lebanon as well as the Middle East, along with Westerners who want to study in the region.

But it is also located in a country that has one of the hottest and most tense political climates in the region.

Critical parliamentary elections are coming up in May. And AUB cannot help but be affected by what goes on beyond its campus walls, including the fights between pro- and anti-Syrian political factions, between Shiite Muslims and Sunnis and secular and religious groups.

On-campus political debates heat up as students go to classes charged with political conviction.

Some students believe the current political climate should bar students from bringing off-campus political affiliations to universities.

"We, as 'neutral' Lebanese students feel ashamed by the fact that our ... university allows political affiliations to take hold during its election," says a Sarah, a sophomore engineering student. "Bonding us together should be the administration’s main objective, and I do not see that happening."

Others say they can't imagine elections without such affiliations. "We are doing our best so far," said Salah, a supporter of the Sunni-led, pro-U.S. March 14 movement, which is battling the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition for dominance. "We will recruit as many supporters as we can and keep our spirits high during the elections period. It’s in the hands of voters to decide.”

But what about the international students, who have little stake in Lebanon's internal squabbles? This year university officials seem to finally be coming around to the idea that the school needs to be more conscious and supportive of its international student body during such critical times.

"It’s time for us, international students, to swim against the current and be more demanding of our rights," said Farah Abdul al-Kader, a public administration student of Palestinian descent. "In a university that stresses the importance of creating a cross-cultural atmosphere on its campus, we should not be thought of as inferiors to either of the two battling parties."

-- Khaled Hijab in Beirut

Photo: An idyllic campus scene at the American University of Beirut. Credit: Khaled Hijab / Los Angeles Times

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