The AAUG Experience: An Assessment

Article excerpt

MILLIONS OF ARAB CITIZENS TOOK TO the streets in almost every major Arab city on the 10 June 1967 proclaiming their intent to reverse the consequences of the June 1967 war, the third Arab-Israeli war, and their determination to defeat Israel's attempt to establish its dominion over the region. Arabs, in their multitude, understood that such an undertaking had two aspects. On the one hand, a military option to force Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories and a diplomatic option to engage the United States, Israel's primary benefactor and protector, were required. On the other hand, the conduct of the war made it amply clear that the Arab status quo was no longer viable. Their societies were in need of radical reform.

Arab-American academics and professionals, who founded the Association of Arab-American University Graduates (AAUG) in 1967 and immersed themselves in building it, shared many of the same perceptions. My association with AAUG began in the 1970s. Earlier, as a graduate student in Canada, my activities in the public field were focused on the mobilization of Canadian Arabs at the local and national levels through the Canadian Arab Federation (CAF). CAF was established in 1967 to represent Canadian Arabs on issues of public policy. Following my graduation in 1973, I returned to the Arab world to assume a teaching position at Kuwait University. Naseer Aruri was spending a sabbatical that year in the Department of Political Science. He introduced the AAUG to his colleagues immediately after his arrival and was very successful in recruiting new members and supporters from among their ranks. These included an elite circle of accomplished scholars from various academic disciplines and different Arab nationalities, some of whom were recognized political or social activists, such as As'ad Abdul Rahman, Walid Khadduri, Adrian Shihab El Din, Khaldoun Al Naqib, Hassan Al Ebraheem, Faisal Al Salem, Mohammad Rabi', Ahmad Tarabain, and many others. Naseer's personality exuded confidence; his intellectual vigor and his mannerisms endeared him to all. Soon, with Naseer in the lead, we succeeded in holding a joint AAUG-Kuwait University conference in Kuwait which exceeded our expectations. Naseer returned to his post at Southeast Massachusetts University leaving many friends behind. After that year, Naseer and I continued to work together on public issues and maintained a special friendship which endures until today.

My association with AAUG became intermittent. During my seven-year stay in Kuwait, I helped organize and participated in AAUG conferences held in the U.S. and Kuwait, contributed to AAUG publications and built a network of supporters for AAUG in the Gulf. It was a time when Arab nationalist sentiments and thought dominated the region, especially in Kuwait, a country whose infrastructure and economy were built by Arab professionals and whose educational system was manned by Arab teachers to a greater extent than in any other Arab Gulf country most of whom depended on foreign educators. Between 1979 and 1990, when I joined Harvard, McGill, and then the University of British Columbia, I became totally immersed in the XVII annual convention in 1984, President in 1985, ex officio member of the board in 1986, reelected to the Board in 1988, and Board of Editors from 1987-1990. In addition to the time and effort spent on AAUG affairs in the U.S. and Canada, I was also traveling repeatedly in the 1980s to the Middle East at the head of AAUG delegations or by myself to raise the funds that were needed. Over all in that decade, I volunteered some six to eight weeks each year on AAUG business. I could not have maintained such a schedule had it not been for the support of my wife and two of my brothers, Mohammad and Nabih. They understood how much I was committed to the success of AAUG. Since 1991, my involvement in the workings of the Association has been minimal. Given my record at AAUG, my observations are more pertinent to and representative of the 1980s. …