This is a story of the people’s war against
“extremely valuable United States assets”, ×Quote from a cable written by US ambassador Godley to describe the importance of AUB to US foreign policy.
and how simple acts of disobedience
can challenge hostile foreign policy.
“YOU SHOULD BE AWARE OF IMPLICATIONS FOR BOTH PRIVATE AND PUBLIC SUPPORT FROM THE UNITED STATES SHOULD IT APPEAR THAT THE STUDENT BODY HAS BEEN TAKEN OVER BY THOSE ADVOCATING EXTREMIST TACTICS.”
On March 12, 1973, US ambassador to Beirut William B. Buffum called AUB’s acting president Stanley P. Swenson over an unprecedented editorial that appeared in the official weekly student gazette. Alarmed by the editorial piece, Buffum warned the university of a potential radical Palestinian move to take over AUB’s student council.
The gazette began its front-page editorial in the 9 March 1973 edition as follows:
" ALTHOUGH 'OPERATION KHARTOUM ×The ‘Khartoum operation’ was an attack by the Black September Organization on the Saudi embassy in Khartoum that had taken place one week earlier that resulted in the death of two US diplomats. The BSO had demanded the release of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, as well as the release of Sirhan Sirhan from US prison and members from the German Baader Meinhof Group. ' IS OVER, IT WILL TAKE A MUCH LONGER TIME FOR ITS EFFECTS TO COOL DOWN. ALTHOUGH THE MAIN AIM OF THE OPERATION WAS NOT ACHIEVED, STILL, A LOT HAS BEEN ACCOMPLISHED.'OPERATION KHARTOUM' WAS THE FIRST DIRECT CONFRONTATION BETWEEN THE PALESTINIAN COMMANDOS AND THE USA."
For the US diplomacy’s outpost in Beirut, it was evident by then that the next battle would be fought in its soft underbelly: The American University of Beirut.
“Outrageous!” Ambassador Buffum exclaimed over the phone, “Expressions of radical sentiment such as approval of Khartoum operation could have a serious, negative effect on future American support for AUB!” The administration, he noted, should find means to curtail extremists: “This is a freedom of expression that has been carried too far, and I want to be personally advised of what steps the university contemplates on taking.”
That same afternoon, after absorbing the ambassador’s rage, Swenson--who would retire from his duties only 4 months after this interaction--sent the Dean of Students, Robert Najemy on a mission to meet the ambassador and assure him that AUB’s administration would take the necessary actions. During the meeting, the ambassador expressed his shock once again as he lamented:
“AT A TIME WHEN THE US GOVERNMENT IS MAKING IT CLEAR TO ARAB GOVERNMENTS THAT ITS ATTITUDE TOWARD THEM WILL BE INFLUENCED BY THEIR POSITION ON TERRORISM, AUB IS UNDERMINING THESE EFFORTS. THEREFORE, YOU SHOULD BE AWARE OF IMPLICATIONS FOR BOTH PRIVATE AND PUBLIC SUPPORT FROM THE UNITED STATES SHOULD IT APPEAR THAT THE STUDENT BODY HAS BEEN TAKEN OVER BY THOSE ADVOCATING EXTREMIST TACTICS.”
While the main issue was clearly political and directly related to an editorial in the student gazette, the ambassador kept using the “financial aid” card as he became more specific: “The AUB trustees meeting is being held in New York to discuss means of coping with the university’s severe financial difficulties.” Referring to the possibility of receiving financial aid, he set forth the fact that it would be hard to expect improvement on the financial front if more “terror and extremism” was to be anticipated on campus. Therefore, he suggested, “the AUB administration must move quickly to cope with the problem before it gets out of hand”. While this remark could be taken as a word of advice, the receiver could also easily interpret it as blackmail.
Dean Najemy, probably uncomfortable at this point, quickly responded with affirmation but also pointed out that the administration was facing difficulties in controlling radicals, and that he would prefer to deal with the matter without giving “extremists” a pretext for escalation. Even the president of the student council, Mohammad Dajjani, who, according to Najemy “had worked closely with AUB administration”, had, for the first time, been encountering serious opposition from within the student council. Dajjani, a pro-Arafat student leader who majored in mass communication and served as President of the student council from 1972-73, asked the editor of the student paper to resign even before the problematic March 9 edition. But Dajjani’s request was faced with rejection. Najemy noted that direct confrontation would play into the hands of radicals who continually stressed that AUB takes direct orders from the US embassy.
Dajjani was recruited after the 1967 war and met Khalil Al-Wazir. During that period, and up until the early 1970s, he hung posters of Mao, Ho Chi Minh and Che in his office. He moved to the US in 1975. He is currently an open supporter of Zionism.
Before the end of the meeting, Buffum told the Dean of students that he would be expected to “do whatever necessary to make clear, now and in the future, just where AUB stands”. As he was leaving the ambassador’s office, Najemy promised him he would do his best.
The next day, ambassador Buffum sat in his chair in front of an IBM Selectric typewriter and wrote the following telegram letter:
THIS EPISODE IS ONE MORE, AND PERHAPS MOST REPREHENSIBLE, PIECE OF EVIDENCE DEMONSTRATING STRENGTH WITHIN STUDENT MOVEMENT AT AUB OF PALESTINIAN RADICALS AND THEIR SYMPATHIZERS.
"SPEAKERS CORNER" CONTINUES TO SERVE AS FREE FORUM FOR MILITANT VIEWS. APPEARANCE THERE ON MARCH 9 OF ONE OF FATAH LEADERS IDENTIFIED WITH TERRORIST ACTIVITIES (ABU HASSAN), COMBINED WITH ONE-DAY SYMPATHY STRIKE ON BEHALF of TERRORIST ABU DAOUD DEMONSTRATES EXTENT TO WHICH PALESTINIAN MILITANTS ARE AGAIN DOMINATING STUDENT POLITICAL ACTIVITIES. WHEREAS ONE POINT LAST YEAR WE FOUND SOME HOPE, IN FACT FATAH ELEMENTS APPEARED GAIN UPPER HAND OVER PFLP ON CAMPUS, WE ARE CONCERNED OVER EXTEND OF CURRENT IDENTIFICATION OF FATAH WITH BLACK SEPTEMBER, AND INCREASING EXTREMIST TENDENCIES SHOWN BY MOST PALESTINIAN MILITANTS. THE MORE MODERATE STUDENT LEADERS MAY BE OVERRUN BY RADICALS. WE SHALL WATCH SITUATION OF AUB CLOSELY AND REPORT ON FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS.
In retrospect, Buffum's analysis and warnings as they appeared in his telegram were most likely accurate. Shortly after the student paper incident, the “radical” groups he had warned about in the previous cable, successfully achieved their goal of “taking over the student council”, while Mohammad Dajjani and the more “moderate” players were overrun by groups backed by Abu Jihad (Khalil Al-Wazir), Maoists led by Eddie Zananiri, and pro-PFLP militants.
A Maoist, he was a member of the Palestine Student Union in 1974. Spokesperson of the Australian Palestinian Community, he currently lives in Sydney, Australia
On the other hand, it was clear that the financial burden was an important, recurring theme in AUB’s history, and a key catalyst in its relationship, not only with its students but also with the US and neighboring countries. The effects of this dynamic would unfold exactly one year later, on March 18, 1974.
STUDENT STRIKES ARE GIVING GREAT CONCERN TO MOST ELEMENTS OF LEBANESE "ESTABLISHMENTS".
IN THE SPRING OF 1974, AUB WENT THROUGH LONGEST AND MOST COSTLY STUDENT STRIKE IN ITS HISTORY. FOR ALMOST SIX WEEKS BEGINNING ON MARCH 18, KEY BUILDINGS ON CAMPUS WERE OCCUPIED BY MILITANT STUDENTS OF A MIXED LEFTIST, PALESTINIAN PERSUASION WHO WERE OSTENSIBLY DEMANDING CANCELLATION OF A PLANNED TUITION INCREASE, CONTINUATION OF CERTAIN COURSES OF STUDY, AND STUDENT REPRESENTATION ON UNIVERSITY SCHOLARSHIP AND ADMISSION COMMITTEES. IN FACT, STRIKERS' REAL AIM APPEARED AT TIMES TO BE TO BRING ABOUT TOTAL COLLAPSE AND CLOSURE OF AUB AND AT OTHER TIMES INSTALLATION OF STUDENT CONTROL OR CERTAINLY STUDENT VETO OVER UNIVERSITY'S ADMINISTRATIVE AFFAIRS.
THROUGHOUT THE STRIKE, THE CAMPUS, EXCEPT FOR ON-CAMPUS APARTMENTS AND HOUSES OF FACULTY AND STAFF, WAS COMPLETELY UNDER STUDENT CONTROL. ALL GATES WERE MANNED BY STICK-CARRYING TEAMS OF STUDENTS AND EACH MAJOR BUILDING HAD ITS STUDENT OCCUPIERS.
Looking at the 1974 events in retrospect, one group of spectators would dismiss them as the actions of disgruntled students from middle-class families echoing the May ‘68 student uprisings. Another group would simply respond with feelings of nostalgia to the radical student movement and Palestinian struggle of the “Seventies”. But US diplomatic cables from that year would add an even more peculiar layer to those events, beyond the spectacle, in the form of meeting minutes, analysis and policy recommendations written by US diplomats.
These cables were first made available online by Wikileaks in 2011. Their main value stems from their ability to reveal what the press does not or cannot say. They also tell us what key decision-makers were preoccupied with, how they planned their next move, and what was really at stake at that specific moment. Most importantly, they reveal that the student strikes and occupation were the major obstacle facing AUB’s administration in its numerous attempts to get financial aid from the US and Gulf monarchies, especially the House of Saud. In other words, the campus battles were severing AUB’s supply lines.
WikiLeaks is an international non-profit organization that publishes news leaks and classified media provided by anonymous sources, including proof of war crimes. Its founder Julian Assange is currently being illegally detained by the British government, facing extradition to the US.
What also became evident from the 200+ cables related to the campus occupation of 1974 was that a simple act of student rebellion could cause diplomatic shockwaves that extended far beyond Ras Beirut: The AUB board in New York, the Crown Prince of Jordan, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia and even Henry Kissinger himself were involved in the occupation saga, making one phone call after another, drafting cables, and attending meetings behind closed doors to put an end to the strike and student occupation. Even the mayor of the Palestinian town of Beit Jala had a special appearance in the cables after his son, daughter, and nephew were expelled from the university due to their role in the campus occupation.
22 March 1974: Five days had passed since students took control of the campus and occupied the university’s buildings as a response to the 10% tuition increase. Attempting to mediate the chaos, AUB’s president issued a statement threatening to cancel the semester unless classes resumed within one week. Contrary to his hopes, student strikes became increasingly widespread as protestors took to the streets on a daily basis, mainly in Beirut and Saida, with two large demonstrations on March 20 and 21 attended by 5,000 people. Violent clashes broke out between security forces and protestors during the March 20 demonstration, with both sides occasionally using firearms, and a taxi driver being killed by security forces in the crossfire. The workers movement was calling for even larger demonstrations against the rising cost of living on March 27, as well as a general strike on April 2. The government responded by “threatening” to temporarily take over bakeries that were on strike, demanding a 20% increase in the price of bread.
On Friday afternoon, the newly appointed Ambassador, Mr. G. McMurtrie Godley, summarized the tense situation of that week.
US Ambassador G. McMurtrie Godley presented his credentials on March 15, 1974, and served as Ambassador to Lebanon until January 13, 1976. US President Richard Nixon nominated G. McMurtrie Godley, former Ambassador to Laos, to be the United States Ambassador to Lebanon.
His arrival at Beirut airport was marked by heavy security precautions, after reports claimed that Palestinian elements were planning to hold a protest demonstrations on roads leading to the airport. Pro-fedayeen and leftist press exposed the newly-appointed ambassador's role in Laos and Congo, calling him "murderer", "butcher" and "criminal". In a diplomatic cable written by Godley himself two days after his arrival, he warned that the media campaign "could incite some further student and extremist Palestinian action"
In 1969, President Nixon appointed Godley Ambassador to the Kingdom of Laos. He arrived in the midst of the Laotian Civil War and effectuated the American policy of supporting the Royal Lao Government against the Communist Pathet Lao. Although Laos was officially neutral in the ongoing Vietnam War, the Central Intelligence Agency was secretly active in Laos, organizing and financing Laotian and Thai guerillas who were fighting the Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese. Godley left his position as Ambassador to Laos on April 23, 1973. Godley had helped to direct secret military operations in Laos while he was Ambassador there.
WEEK BEGAN WITH MAJOR RALLY BY SHIA IMAM MUSA SADR AT BAALBECK WHERE AN ESTIMATED 35 TO 50,000 SHIAS FROM ALL OVER COUNTRY GATHERED TO DEMONSTRATE SUPPORT FOR SADR AND ATTACK THE FAILURE OF THE GOVERNMENT OF LEBANON AND (SPEAKER OF PARLIAMENT) KAMEL ASAAD. [...] 5,000 OR MORE OF PARTICIPANTS WERE ARMED, OBVIOUS ENTHUSIASMS WHICH SADR GENERATES AMONG SHIAS, AND NERVOUS REACTION OF THE GOVERNMENT OF LEBANON AND ASAAD (AND SUNNI MUSLEMS) ARE CLEAR INDICATORS OF LONG TERM POLITICAL IMPORTANCE OF THIS SUDDEN SHIA AWAKENING WHICH DERIVES STRENGTH FROM POVERTY AND OTHER BASIC SOCIO-ECONOMIC PROBLEMS AS WELL AS RELIGION AND SADR'S PERSONAL CHARISMA.
[...] [THIS] WEEK OF INCREASING VIOLENCE ENDED IN TRUCE OVER WEEKEND AS STUDENTS, TRADE UNIONS, POLITICIANS, GOVERNMENT AND LEFTIST GROUPS ASSESS RESPECTIVE POSITIONS AND DECIDE UPON ACTIONS FOR NEXT WEEK. TAKIEDDINE SOLH CABINET WEAKENED STILL FURTHER BY ITS OBVIOUS INDECISION IN COPING WITH STUDENT DEMONSTRATIONS AND INCREASING POPULAR RESENTMENT OVER DETERIORATING SOCIO-ECONOMIC SITUATION.
ON OTHER HAND, THE PUBLIC IS TURNING AGAINST STUDENTS AND OTHER DEMONSTRATORS AS A RESULT OF VANDALISM AND VIOLENCE.
The extent of the pressure created by the spring student movements, mainly the AUB occupation, was vividly described in another Godley cable, explaining how “most elements of the Lebanese Establishments” were greatly concerned with the recurrence of student unrest, not just AUB. Although Godley had only spent 7 months in Lebanon so far, he proceeded to analyze the generational clash within Lebanese society, and the energy of the youth during the Spring of 1974:
ALTHOUGH THERE IS REASON TO HOPE THAT FURTHER SERIOUS STUDENT STRIKES OR DISORDERS CAN BE AVOIDED THIS FALL, POSSIBILITY THAT THEY MAY RECUR IS GIVING GREAT CONCERN TO MOST ELEMENTS OF LEBANESE "ESTABLISHMENTS". BASIC CAUSES WOULD APPEAR REFLECT GENERAL STUDENT RESTLESSNESS THAT WE HAVE WITNESSED WORLD-WIDE. THEY ARE AGGRAVATED IN LEBANON, HOWEVER, BY STUDENT GRIEVANCES AGAINST DO-NOTHING GOVERNMENT, BY ORGANIZED (AND FREQUENTLY SUBSIDIZED) PALESTINIAN AGITATION, AND BY THEIR FEELING OF BEING LOST IN A LEADERLESS SOCIETY. MAJORITY OF LEBANESE YOUTH IS ANTAGONISTIC TO TRADITIONAL LEBANESE
SOCIO-CONFESSIONAL STRUCTURE AND IS SEEKING NEW OUTLETS
FOR THEIR ENERGIES. MANY REJECT SOCIAL RESTRAINTS DEEMED ESSENTIAL BY OLDER GENERATIONS. MULTI-RELIGIOUS MARRIAGES AMONG THE ELITE, ANATHEMA TO MOST OF THEIR ELDERS, ARE OCCURRING AT EVER-INCREASING RATE, AND MANY PARENTS ARE INCAPABLE OF UNDERSTANDING IDEALS ESPOUSED BY THEIR OFFSPRING.
AUB student strike against a 10% increase in tuition fees
Led by Fatah movement and leftist and nationalist groups.
Ghandour factory workers strike in Chiyah and Choueifat
Hundreds of workers participated in the strike and clashed with Lebanese security forces attempting to end the strike. One of the striking workers, Youssef Al-Attar, was killed during the clashes along with Fatima Khawaja, a resident of the neighborhood.
The Tobacco uprising in South Lebanon
The uprising reached its peak when tobacco farmers occupied the monopoly “Regie” company. Two protestors were killed by the Lebanese security forces during a demonstration in support of the farmers occupation.
Wave of protests and demonstrations
Led by the labor unions and student movement, defying the ban of protests announced by the Lebanese government.
Black September Organization carried out the “Khartoum Operation”
The AUB student gazette praises the fedayeen’s attack.
Wave of strikes and student protests
Student-led demonstrations - mainly AUB students - faced brutal repression from the Lebanese security forces.
An Israeli commando assassinates 3 Palestinian resistance leaders in Beirut, further complicating the security situation in Lebanon.
The October War
The war led to an ideological shift among the "Fatah" students in Beirut, which raised the level of anti-Western and anti-colonial discourse. The students considered the AUB administration a representative of colonialism in Beirut.
Bank of America operation in Beirut
A group of the Revolutionary Socialist Movement stormed the branch of "Bank of America" in Riad El Solh Street in Beirut, in protest against the American support of Israel during the October War, which broke out about two weeks earlier.
Students occupy AUB
A student strike broke against another 10% tuition increase announced by AUB president Samuel B. Kirkwood. Students occupied the campus buildings for 5 weeks.
Official date for the beginning of the Lebanese civil war
putting an end to the student and workers movements
“WHILE AUB PLIGHT IS REAL ENOUGH, FUNDAMENTAL REASON IS AUB PREFERENCE, NOW AS IN PAST, TO TAKE EASY WAY OUT (I.E. YEARLY TAPPING OF UNCLE SAM).”
Henry Kissinger is a US diplomat who served as Secretary of State and National Security Advisor under Presidents Nixon and Ford. He had a reputation of being a skilled diplomat and negotiator. But his reputation faded after 1973. During the Watergate scandal, congressional investigators discovered that he had ordered the FBI to tap the telephones of the National Security Council staff, which he had denied earlier. Congress also found that he had tried to block the accession to power of Chile’s President Salvador Allende in 1970 and had helped destabilize Allende’s Socialist party government thereafter.
11 April 1974: Three weeks had passed since the beginning of the student occupation, with no signs of resolution in sight. During the first weeks of the occupation, three AUB trustees of Arab nationalities separately visited US Ambassador in Jeddah James E. Akins with the intent of discussing the same issue: Saudi support for the American University of Beirut amidst the crisis. After the recent developments in Beirut, Akins had now become engaged in high-level diplomatic efforts between Jeddah, Beirut, and Washington DC that culminated in him requesting help from the “pioneer” of shuttle diplomacy: US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Ambassador Akins described his encounters with the three trustees:
IN THE LAST MONTH I HAVE BEEN APPROACHED "PRIVATELY AND UNOFFICIALLY" BY THREE TRUSTEES OF THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY OF BEIRUT. [...] THEY ALL DESCRIBED THE DIFFICULTIES THE UNIVERSITY IS FACING, PARTICULARLY SINCE THE SUCCESSIVE DOLLAR DEVALUATIONS. THEY SAID THE UNIVERSITY WILL SOON SELL SOME LAND; THIS WILL TAKE IT THROUGH THE PRESENT YEAR, BUT AFTER JULY '75 IT WILL SURVIVE ONLY BY DEVOURING ITSELF.
[...] THEY INSIST (AND I CONCUR) THAT AUB HAS THE BEST ENGINEERING SCHOOL IN THE ARAB WORLD AND THE ONLY REAL MODERN SCHOOL OF AGRICULTURE IN THE AREA. THEY SAY THIS IS IRONICAL AND BITTER GIVEN THE BILLIONS OF EXCESS CURRENCY NOT IN USE IN THE MIDDLE EAST, PARTICULARLY IN SAUDI ARABIA, AND THIS LEADS THEM TO THEIR PITCH.
THEY SAY AUB OFFICIALS HAVE REPEATEDLY APPROACHED KING FAISAL OF SAUDI ARABIA FOR MONEY AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN TURNED DOWN ON THE GROUNDS THAT AUB IS A HOTBED FOR PALESTINIAN RADICALS AND COMMUNISTS.
Akins shares his opinion about the real reason behind the King’s dislike of AUB.
(I SUSPECT THAT PART OF THE KING'S DISLIKE OF THE UNIVERSITY IS THE SOCIAL FREEDOM IT ENCOURAGES, AND PERHAPS, EVEN MORE, ITS CHRISTIAN ORIGINS.)
He ends his telegram with a question directed at Kissinger:
WHAT IS THE DEPARTMENT'S POSITION IN THE FUTURE OF AUB? IS THE SURVIVAL OF THE UNIVERSITY REALLY IN QUESTION? IS THIS OF IMPORTANCE TO US, AND SHOULD I ASK THE KING OR OTHER SAUDIS FOR ASSISTANCE?
Exactly one week later, Kissinger pitched in and answered Akins questions. But the Secretary of State, renowned for his shuttle diplomacy, did not want his government to be the middleman in this crisis.
AUB INDEED DOES HAVE FINANCIAL PROBLEMS. AUB OFFICIALS, AS THEY DO YEARLY, MADE PITCH TO AID LAST MONTH FOR INCREASE IN AID FUNDS FOR FISCAL YEAR '75. AUB IS CURRENTLY GETTING DOLS. 6.2 MILLION YEARLY FROM AID, WHICH REPRESENTS ABOUT ONE THIRD AUB BUDGET.
IN TALKS WITH AID, DEPARTMENT, AND WHITE HOUSE OFFICIALS AUB WAS TOLD THEY SHOULD MAKE GREATER EFFORTS TO OBTAIN FUNDS FROM RICH ARAB NEIGHBORS TO THE SOUTH. (CONGRESSIONAL
CONTACTS ALSO TOLD AUB THEY COULD NOT COUNT ON INCREASED ALLOCATIONS IN FUTURE.) (US)AID, WHILE IT IS AWARE OF AUB'S FINANCIAL PLIGHT, HAS FINANCIAL PROBLEMS OF ITS OWN AND MAY NOT EVEN HAVE AS LARGE A TOTAL FOR AUB AND RELATED PROGRAMS IN COMING YEARS AS IT HAD IN PAST YEARS. AID POSITION IS BASICALLY THAT, WHILE AUB PLIGHT IS REAL ENOUGH, FUNDAMENTAL REASON IS AUB PREFERENCE, NOW AS IN PAST, TO TAKE EASY WAY OUT (I.E. YEARLY TAPPING OF UNCLE SAM).
[...] WHILE DEPARTMENT ATTACHES GREAT IMPORTANCE TO AUB'S CONTINUED EXISTENCE, WE ARE UNABLE TO MEET UNIVERSITY'S INCREASED DEMANDS FOR SUPPORT.
ACCORDINGLY, DEPARTMENT BELIEVES IT WOULD BE USEFUL FOR AMBASSADOR TO RAISE MATTER WITH SAUDI GOVERNMENT. IN DOING SO, WE WOULD NOT WANT TO BECOME MIDDLEMAN. YOUR APPROACH TO SAUDIS SHOULD EMPHASIZE THAT AUB CURRENTLY EXPERIENCING FINANCIAL DIFFICULTY AND IS INDEED IN DIRE FINANCIAL STRAITS. IN VIEW OF FACT THAT AUB IS SAQQAF'S ALMA MATER, PERHAPS FIRST APPROACH SHOULD BE MADE TO HIM, UNDERLINING THAT USG IS NOT SOLICITING FUNDS FOR AUB, [...] SAQQAF COULD ALSO ADVISE YOU AS TO WHETHER PERSONAL ONE-TIME APPROACH TO FAISAL WOULD BE WORTHWHILE.
BY WAY OF DEFLECTING POSSIBLE ARGUMENT BY SAQQAF ON FAISAL'S KNOWN CONCERN ABOUT SOCIAL AND POLITICAL HABITS OF STUDENTS, YOU MIGHT POINT OUT TO SAQQAF THAT AUB STILL CLEARLY FAR BETTER THAN ALTERNATIVE IRAQI, LIBYAN, OR EASTERN BLOC-SUPPORTED INSTITUTIONS. SEVERE CUTBACKS IN AUB PROGRAMS COULD RESULT IN INCREASED ATTENDANCE BY PALESTINIANS, SYRIANS, JORDANIANS, ETC. AT SCHOOLS IN POLITICAL OR SOCIAL MILIEU EVEN LESS SATISFACTORY FROM SAUDI VIEWPOINT THAN IS AUB.
DEPENDING ON RESULTS OF DISCUSSION WITH SAQQAF, YOU MAY WISH RECOMMEND PRESIDENT KIRKWOOD, AND/OR HIGH RANKING LEBANESE GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS PURSUE WITH SAUDI GOVERNMENT.
The next day, as requested by Kissinger, Godley shared his thoughts on the matter, pushing towards NOT asking Saudis for support as a means to maintain the university’s “American orientation”. Referring to the ongoing occupation of the university, he emphasized the need to work towards improving the public image and morale of the university and administration, instead of securing aid from the Saudis. Although it seems as if Godley stood in opposition to Akins’ position, Godley’s comments echo the “culture”-related concerns that Akins had expressed a week earlier, especially those related to King Faisal’s “dislike” of the university’s promotion of social freedoms and its Christian origins. But while they both preferred not to directly ask Saudis for help, they also knew that there were no other realistic solutions for the time being.
Most importantly, Godley noted that “now is not the right time” to approach the Saudis for aid. The reason was simple: The university was occupied by leftists and Palestinians, which Faisal disliked. According to Godley, this point had to be solved if AUB wanted to survive - regardless of the financial aspect.
[BEIRUT] EMBASSY CONSIDERS AUB TO BE AN EXTREMELY VALUABLE UNITED STATES ASSET THAT STILL HAS MAJOR INFLUENCE IN AREA FAVORABLE TO OUR INTERESTS. GIVEN RAPID EXPANSION AND INCREASING IMPORTANCE OF THIS AREA OF WORLD, AND CONSEQUENT STEPPED-UP COMPETITION WITH US BY SOVS, FRENCH AND OTHERS, IN CULTURAL AS WELL AS OTHER FIELDS, WE BELIEVE IT INCUMBENT UPON USG TO SEE THAT AUB CONTINUES RECEIVE NECESSARY FINANCIAL SUPPORT.
WE BELIEVE IT EXTREMELY IMPORTANT THAT RECENT SLIPPAGE OF AUB'S PRESTIGE IN THE AREA AND MORALE OF ITS FACULTY AND ADMINISTRATION BE REVERSED IF AUB IS TO PLAY ROLE IT SHOULD IN FUTURE.
[...] WE BELIEVE IT WOULD BE PREFERABLE NOT RPT NOT APPROACH SAUDIS OR OTHER POTENTIAL ARAB GOVT DONORS, ALTHOUGH WE BELIEVE IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT AID CONTINUE SUPPORT REQUIRED KEEP UNIVERSITY AFLOAT[...]
IDEALLY, TO MAINTAIN ITS AMERICAN ORIENTATION IN PUREST FORM, NEEDED MONEY SHOULD COME FROM AMERICAN BUSINESS FOUNDATION OR PRIVATE SOURCES.
2. IN PRINCIPLE, EMBASSY FAVORS APPROACH TO ARAB GOVTS FOR ASSISTANCE TO AUB BUT SUGGESTS THAT NOW IS NOT OPTIMUM TIME TO APPROACH SAUDIS. MOST IMMEDIATE REASON IS FACT AUB STUDENTS, LED BY A STUDENT COUNCIL DOMINATED BY THE TYPE OF LEBANESE LEFTIST, RADICAL AND PALESTINIAN ELEMENTS THAT KING FAISAL FEARS AT AUB, HAVE BEEN ON STRIKE AND IN TOTAL OCCUPATION OF CAMPUS SINCE MID-MARCH. BELIE IT WOULD BE EMBARRASSING AS WELL AS IMPOSSIBLE TO DISABUSE SAUDIS OF THEIR DISTRUST FOR AUB AS LONG AS SUCH ELEMENTS, ALBEIT A SMALL MINORITY OF TOTAL STUDENT BODY, HAVE BEEN ABLE TO BRING ENTIRE UNIVERSITY, INCLUDING ITS ADMINISTRATIVE MACHINERY, TO AN ALMOST COMPLETE HALT. (QUITE APART FROM NEGATIVE EFFECT ON SAUDIS, THIS RECURRING PROBLEM WILL OBVIOUSLY HAVE TO BE SOLVED IF AUB IS TO SURVIVE REGARDLESS OF STATE OF ITS FINANCING.)
Jordanians offering another “New Home”
Aware of the looming financial crisis, and taking advantage of the ongoing student occupation, Jordanian Crown Prince Hassan decided to write to the chairman of the board of trustees of AUB in New York, Howard W. Page (He served as director of Arabian American Oil Company, the Trans Arabian Pipeline Company, and the Near East Foundation). The US embassy in Amman relayed the Prince’s concerns and proposal.
JORDANIAN CONCERNS ARE TWOFOLD: THE FUTURE OF THEIR OWN STUDENTS AND PROFESSORS (IN THIS WAY THEY ALSO INCLUDE PALESTINIANS WHO MIGHT CARRY JORDANIAN TRAVEL DOCUMENTS) AND THE FUTURE OF THE AUB ITSELF.
ON THE FIRST POINT, CROWN PRINCE WILL APPARENTLY SUGGEST TO HOWARD W. PAGE THAT JORDAN WOULD BE WILLING THROUGH ITS UNIVERSITY TO HELP WITH THE STUDENTS AND INDICATE ITS CONCERN OVER THE FUTURE OF THEIR EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENT.
ON THE SECOND POINT, (THE PRINCE) IS PREPARED TO SUGGEST THAT JORDAN WOULD BE A FUTURE HOME FOR THE AUB IF IT WERE NO LONGER POSSIBLE FOR IT TO OPERATE IN BEIRUT UNDER PRESENT OF PROJECTED FUTURE CONDITIONS.
CP HASSAN HAS ASKED US TO KEEP HIS PROPOSALS IN STRICTIST CONFIDENCE. HE WILL PROBABLY WISH TO TALK WITH PAGE IN NEW YORK ON HIS COMING TRIP. HE SAYS HE UNDERSTANDS THAT BOTH EGYPT AND IRAN MAY HAVE MADE, OR BE MAKING SIMILAR PROPOSALS FOR A FUTURE SITE FOR AUB AND HE WISHES TO HAVE HIS BID ON THE RECORD.
The US ambassador in Amman told the crown prince that while they had doubts about the immediate demise of AUB, they could see some advantages to Jordan in getting its bid before the trustees. The ambassador notes: “Crown Prince suggestion is not new - has been mentioned to us during previous disturbances”.
WE HAVE DOUBTS ABOUT WHETHER STUDENTS AND STAFF OF AUB WOULD FIND RESTRICTIVE JORDANIAN SOCIETY AND SYSTEM COMPATIBLE WITH AUB TRADITIONS. NEVERTHELESS, RADICAL POLITICS WOULD NO LONGER CONTINUE TO PLAGUE THE INSTITUTION IF IT WERE MOVED HERE. WE VENTURED NO SPECIFIC SUPPORT FOR CP'S SUGGESTION, BUT WOULD BE GLAD TO RECEIVE ANY COMMENTS BEIRUT OR WASHINGTON HAVE TO OFFER. END COMMENT.
NOTE: ABOVE DRAFTED BEFORE LEBANESE MOVES TO END STUDENT STRIKE, BUT THOUGHT WE SHOULD SEND IT ON ANYWAY AS REFLECTION OFFICIAL JORDANIAN VIEWS AND ASPIRATIONS.
IT SHOULD NOT BE CALLED THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY BUT THE "COMMUNIST UNIVERSITY OF BEIRUT.
The ‘Communist University of Beirut’
In the course of another conversation, Sayyid Omar Saqqaf, Saudi Minister of State for foreign affairs, discussed with ambassador Akins before his departure the financial straits of AUB. Akins summarized his meeting as follows:
“HE IS A GRADUATE OF THE UNIVERSITY AND FEELS WARMLY TOWARD IT. RECENTLY HE SAID HE CONTRIBUTED $1000. HE SAID IT WAS QUITE CLEAR TO HIM THAT A SMALL MINORITY WAS TRYING TO DESTROY THE UNIVERSITY; THAT THEY HAD A GOOD CHANCE OF DOING SO AND THAT THIS WOULD BE A "TRAGEDY FOR THE ARABS.
"WHEN THE AMBASSADOR ASKED IF SAUDI ARABIA MIGHT NOT BE ABLE, AS A GOVERNMENT, TO HELP THE UNIVERSITY HE SAID THAT THERE WOULD BE NO CHANCE WHATSOEVER. THE KING [FAISAL], HE SAID, HAD DISCUSSED THE STUDENT RIOTS REPEATEDLY IN THE LAST FEW WEEKS AND HAS ON NUMEROUS OCCASIONS SAID THAT THE UNIVERSITY IS MISNAMED. IT SHOULD NOT BE CALLED THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY BUT THE "COMMUNIST UNIVERSITY OF BEIRUT.
THE SAUDIS HAVE A CURIOUS ATTITUDE TOWARD FOREIGN AID. THEY ARE PAYING SUBSTANTIAL SUBSIDIES TO JORDAN, SYRIA AND EGYPT. THEY HAVE JUST GIVEN 50 MILLION DOLLARS FOR WORLD FOOD PROGRAM, BUT WHEN IT COMES TO AIDING "RADICALS" THERE SEEMS TO BE ONLY HOSTILITY. BECAUSE OF THE KING'S DISLIKE OF SOME OF THE PALESTINIAN LEADERS, SAUDI CONTRIBUTION TO UNRWA WAS RAISED FROM $150,000 TO ONLY $600,000, WHEN THE NEED WAS FAR GREATER AND SAUDI ARABIA'S ABILITY TO PAY WAS OBVIOUSLY HIGHER.
WE DO NOT INTEND TO RAISE THE MATTER OF ASSISTANCE TO AUB AGAIN WITH THE SAUDIS UNLESS THE DEPARTMENT OR EMBASSY BEIRUT HAS SOME SPECIFIC PROJECT IN MIND. THE SAUDIS MIGHT BE WILLING TO DO SOMETHING TO SAVE THE ENGINEERING OR MEDICAL SCHOOL, BUT EVEN THIS SEEMS UNLIKELY TODAY.
US ambassador Godley then responded to Akins’ latest updates and shared with him the news about another meeting with AUB president Kirkwood who was still hoping to receive aid from King Faisal:
Prior to joining AUB, Kirkwood was a senior administrator of the U.S. AID in Iran. According to the AUB's website, Kirkwood "managed to keep AUB open during adverse times, Arab-Israeli wars, strikes, demonstrations, upheavals, and finally the civil war in Lebanon." AUB’s biography of Kirkwood includes an ‘anecdote’ reminiscing his way of dealing with the students’ strikes. The bio states: “At one of the student strikes on campus during the early 1970's, Kirkwood left his office in College Hall and went to West Hall to talk to the demonstrating students. Amidst a great deal of commotion and shouting, President Kirkwood started to speak. Almost immediately there was calm, while the students strained to hear Kirkwood's softly spoken words.”
Source: AUB President, History of the office
JIDDA'S 3345 (TELEGRAM) ARRIVED AT MOST OPPORTUNE MOMENT IN THAT AUB PRESIDENT KIRKWOOD ASKED YESTERDAY TO SEE ME THIS MORNING. REASONS FOR KIRKWOOD'S CALL WAS TO EXPRESS "REMOTE" HOPE THAT PRESIDENT NIXON MIGHT RAISE WITH KING FAISAL OFFICIAL SAUDI SUPPORT FOR AUB. I REVIEWED JIDDA'S 3345 WITH KIRKWOOD. HE EXPRESSED GRATITUDE FOR AMBASSADOR AIKEN'S ACTIONS, COMMENTING THAT KING'S POSITION DID NOT SURPRISE HIM IN LIGHT OF PAST HISTORY.
OUR CONVERSATION WAS CUT BY THE ARRIVAL OF A LOCAL DIGNITARY BUT JUST BEFORE LEAVING KIRKWOOD IN "UTMOST" CONFIDENCE THAT HE HAD SOME REASON TO BELIEVE THAT NOTWITHSTANDING HIS PERSONAL GENEROSITY TO AUB, SAYED OMAR SAQQAF WAS NOT AS WELL DISPOSED TOWARD AUB AS HE APPEARED TO BE. I DID NOT HAVE A CHANCE TO PROBE FURTHER BUT PASS THIS ALONG FOR SUCH AS IT MAY BE WORTH.
Godley’s doubts about AUB’s ability to get out of its financial troubles increased as he spent more time in Beirut:
IN OUR JUDGMENT, AUB DOES NOT RPT NOT HAVE FACILITIES OR ORGANIZATION TO OPERATE EQUALLY EFFICIENT PROGRAM. FIRST OF ALL, ON BASIS OUR OWN EXPERIENCE AND THOSE OF MISSIONS INSPECTING AUB AND OTHERS, AUB ADMINISTRATION IS WEAK.
THE UNIVERSITY IS TRYING TO UP-GRADE ITS ADMINISTRATIVE FUNCTION, BUT HIS WILL UNDOUBTEDLY TAKE TIME.
“THE GOVERNMENT ACTED AFTER JUDICIAL FINDING OF VANDALISM, PURSUANT TO COMPLAINT BY AUB ADMINISTRATION, AND FOLLOWING CAREFUL PUBLICITY BUILDUP”
Three days after Kissinger’s last remarks on the AUB crisis, Ambassador Godley documented how 200 Lebanese internal security forces swiftly entered the AUB campus before sunrise and ended the five-week-long student occupation.
...BETWEEN TWO AND THREE O'CLOCK THIS MORNING LEBANESE POLICE, ACTING ON FORMAL TRESPASS COMPLAINT MADE BY AUB, ENTERED THE CAMPUS AND QUICKLY ARRESTED SOME 60 STUDENTS WHO WERE OCCUPYING BUILDINGS. SOME 100 GENDARMES REMAIN ON CAMPUS TO ASSURE ORDER. THERE HAVE BEEN SOME STUDENT DEMONSTRATIONS IN REACTION TO GOL MOVE BUT THE SITUATION THUS FAR IS UNDER CONTROL.
One month earlier, the public had already expressed resentment over violent protests and vandalism inside and outside the campus, which meant security forces had secured the public support needed to enter the campus and end the occupation. The ambassador further explained the PR aspects of the operation:
THE GOVERNMENT ACTED AFTER JUDICIAL FINDING OF VANDALISM, PURSUANT TO COMPLAINT BY AUB ADMINISTRATION, AND FOLLOWING CAREFUL PUBLICITY BUILDUP, INCLUDING STUDENT PETITION FOR RETURN TO CLASSES SIGNED BY 2,000 STUDENTS. EMBASSY WAS AWARE OF THE OPERATION ALTHOUGH NOT OFFICIALLY INFORMED OR CONSULTED BY EITHER AUB OR GOL.
SURVEY OF BUILDINGS, PARTICULARLY OFFICE AREAS INCLUDING PRESIDENT KIRKWOOD'S OWN OFFICE, SHOWS INCREDIBLE DEGREE OF VANDALISM. NO AREA ESCAPED SPRAY PAINT CAN AND HUGE SLOGANS AND SYMBOLS, INCLUDING HAMMER AND SICKLE DEFACE EVERY POSSIBLE SURFACE. ANTI-AMERICAN AND ANTI-ADMINISTRATION REMARKS SCRATCHED INTO POLISHED DESK TOPS.
IN NOON PRESS CONFERENCE MINISTER OF INTERIOR MADE IT VERY CLEAR THAT THERE WERE DEFINITE LIMITS TO GOVERNMENT OF LEBANON PATIENCE AND EXPLAINED THAT HANDFUL OF STUDENTS WERE IN EFFECT DEPRIVING ALL OF THEIR EDUCATION AND RESORTING TO MASSIVE DESTRUCTION FOR WHICH THERE NO JUSTIFICATION. GOL HAS ENSURED FULL TV COVERAGE OF DAMAGE AND SLOGANS, WHICH WILL FURTHER TURN PUBLIC OPINION IN SUPPORT OF GOL AND AUB.
Just as the student occupation weakened AUB’s morale, ending the occupation only required a PR campaign focused solely on vandalism and Marxist graffiti to win the hearts and minds of the traditional society and its reactionary forces.
FROM EMBASSY'S VANTAGE POINT WOULD APPEAR AUB HAS MADE COMMENDABLE EFFORT TO ENSURE THAT THOSE STUDENTS EXPELLED WERE ACTIVISTS AND RING-LEADERS OF ANTI- AUB ADMINISTRATION MOVEMENT IN GENERAL AND THE SPRING STRIKERS IN PARTICULAR. ALTHOUGH NEITHER AUB NOR GOL HAVE MADE PUBLIC RECORD OF FACT, EMBASSY OFFICER WAS TOLD AT TIME OF APR 24 POLICE RAID ON CAMPUS THAT DUE SWIFTNESS AND UNEXPECTEDNESS OF RAID EXTENSIVE WRITTEN RECORDS CITING NAMES OF STUDENTS GIVEN STRIKE ASSIGNMENTS, COMMITTEE MEMBERSHIPS, ETC.,WERE SEIZED. THIS SHOULD HAVE SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCED SUBJECTIVITY FACTOR IN AUB'S DECISION.
A DEFINITE EFFORT TO MOUNT A PRESS CAMPAIGN AND OTHER SIGNS OF POPULAR SUPPORT FOR EXPELLEES HAS ALREADY BEGUN IN BEIRUT BUT SO FAR IT HAS GONE UP LIKE A LEAD BALLOON. THE UNIVERSITY IS ENJOYING CONSIDERABLE PARENTAL AND COMMUNITY BACKING (IN CONTRAST WITH 1971) FOR FIRM ACTION AGAINST LAST SEMESTER'S POLITICALLY MOTIVATED TROUBLEMAKERS. UNIVERSITY'S CASE IS CERTAINLY BOLSTERED BY MARXIST GRAFFITI LEFT BY THOSE WHO OCCUPIED BUILDING
[...] IT IS ALSO BECOMING WELL KNOWN HERE THAT AUB ACTED WITH FULL SUPPORT OF THE LEBANESE PRESIDENT AND MINISTER OF EDUCATION.
[...] WE CONTINUE TO BELIEVE THAT SITUATION CLEARLY REQUIRED SOME DECISIVE ACTION BY AUB ADMINISTRATION AND THAT ACTION TAKEN, ON BASIS OF EVIDENCE DESCRIBED ABOVE, IS JUSTIFIED IF UNIVERSITY IS TO CONTINUE.