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Tuesday, November 23, 2010


The AUB campus buzzes with activity this week. The normal stuff: students eat cheese or falafel sandwiches and drink Mirinda orange soda, the scores of semi-tame cats that populate AUB prowl the sidewalks, kids toss frisbees and sit on benches and study. In addition to the normal buzz, everyone prepares for tomorrow's student elections. Campaigning is intense. Students affiliated with campus political parties like 'Order Out of Chaos' and 'Students at Work' hand out flyers and plaster signs on the walls and congregate in really big groups.

Aside from the handful of indpendent candidates, most students running for office are affiliated with one of Lebanon's political parties. Kind of like if students at American universities ran for Student Body President as republicans or democrats. Only in most cases, the animosity between parties is way more complicated and deep-seated. NOW Lebanon has an interesting report about the relationship between the sectarian parties and their student wings. According to a representative from Amal (a Shi'a party--wikipedia uses the term "militia"), the group provides "moral support" and to a lesser degree "monetary contributions" to their student candidates.

Even though the names of the campus parties don't explicitly reflect these affilitations, one party represents the March 8 Alliance and another represents March 14--the two coalitions with opposing views on both the degree to which Syria should have any sovereignty in Lebanon and whether UN tribunals should continue investigating the 2005 assasination of Lebanon's Prime Minister. The politics are complex and even the student elections reflect the complexity and the high stakes.

Normally tourist groups walk through campus regularly; AUB is a stop on most bus tours of the city. But tomorrow no visitors are allowed on campus, so as to foster order during the election process and, I presume (and my students agree) to prevent tampering.

I realize this all makes the elections seem dramatic, but many of my students maintain a skeptical and ho-hum attitude about the whole process. I talked to my English 204 students before and after class today about the elections and a good number of them wish the political parties would leave the campus alone. There's a real divide between the school's secular and non-partisan ethos and the sectarian politics that in some ways define Lebanon.

But more and more, I see that politics don't define Lebanon. The pride people take in the villages they come from, the food, the ancient history, certainly the hospitality. These things seem to exist on a plain above politics. Not totally apart from politics, for that would be impossible, but above the world of squabbles that--no matter how divisive--don't change people's DNA.

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