To: UNESCO Headquarter
Chairperson Sonia Mendieta de Badaroux
7 Place de Fontenoy
75352 Paris 07 SP
Fax (33)1 45 68 56 24 /15

June 4th, 2001

RE: Threat Facing Lebanon’s Educational System

Dear Ambassador Sonia Mendieta de Badaroux
As a Lebanese Professor in the United States, I would like to draw your attention to the serious threat facing Lebanon's educational system as well as its multi-cultural identity. Over the past few weeks, the Lebanese Government has made public a decision to eliminate a number of campuses affiliated with the Lebanese state University and to forcefully merge them with other campuses, in order to fulfill a dangerous vision of cultural cleansing.

As you know, Lebanon was and remains a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. It has been formed as a state for many historic communities. All its constitutions and constitutional reforms from 1920 to 1989 have clearly emphasized its plurality of communities. Lebanon's multi-cultural identity, even previously to the formation of the modern state, has always been the foundation and the raison d'etre in the Middle East.

Prior to the 15 years war, Lebanon's university system clearly expressed this historic reality. Its main, well known private universities, reflected and still do, the plurality of its cultural identity. Its young national university, the "Lebanese University," and despite the war, has been able to develop a multi-campus structure, known as the regional sections. Those regional campuses which were developed since 1977 to adapt to the student
geo-cultural needs, were distributed in several areas of the country, including within
the various neighborhoods of the capital Beirut.

The campuses known as "second branches" in East Beirut expressed to the cultural climate of the neighborhoods of that sector of the capital and its suburbs. The "first branches," traditionally located in West Beirut, played a similar role for their neighborhoods. For a quarter of a century, Lebanon's national university developed a pluralist system to adapt to the multi-cultural identity of the country. A development, not only tied to Lebanon's educational needs, but in conformity with educational trends and
standards worldwide.

Unfortunately, and as a result of a policy of cultural intolerance imposed by the Lebanese Government, a regime which is increasingly falling under Syrian military influence, a decision was made to eliminate the "second branches," and to merge them with the "first branches," located in West Beirut. Such a decision will dismantle the regional campuses of East Beirut, which hosted tens of thousands of students and hundreds of Professors and administrative staff, and force them to join the opposite branches.

In addition to the cultural cleansing of East Beirut's state-funded high education, most of which students and instructors belongs to the middle class, it is to note the politically motivated  decision. While the overwhelming majority of the students and faculty of the "second branches" are opposed to the Syrian military occupation of Lebanon, the second
branches are controlled by students groups affiliated with pro-Syrian organisms as well as with the radical Hizbollah militia. Another dangerous aim of the pro-Syrian Government decision in dismantling one cultural dimension of the country then, is to eliminate the campuses which opposes them and force their students to move to the unbearable control of the pro-Syrian militants of the "first branches."

I believe that the UNESCO, an international agency which main function is to protect cultural identities worldwide, must raise the matter with the Lebanese Government as well as with the Secretary General of the United Nations. Since Lebanon is still in a post war situation and its domestic fabric in precarious conditions, any attempt to dismantle its pluralistic identity will have a serious impact on the country's societal equilibrium.

The UNESCO must move to assist Lebanon's communities which cultural and educational identity is threatened. Not only tens of thousands of students and educators are facing cultural suppression, but also a whole segment of the Lebanon is threatened with cultural cleansing. What was not achieved during the war may well be enforced by state policies.

I remain ready to assist you with all expertise needed
Walid Phares, Ph.D.
Professor of Political Science