American Univesity of Beirut

AUB mourns prominent scholar Antoine Zahlan

​​​​Sally Abou Melhem​, Office of Communications,

Dr. Antoine Zahlan, a brilliant scientist and scholar, cherished mentor, AUB alumnus, and former professor and chairman of the Physics Department​, passed away on August 31 at the age of 92. He left behind a lifetime of achievements and contributions in the field of practical science, the relationship between the sciences and society and between the sciences and progress, the social responsibility of scientists, and the adoption of scientific and technological systems in Arab countries. He was also one of the most prominent Arab academics in the field of future studies.

Early life and family
Zahlan was born in Haifa to Benjamin Zahlan and Marie Khoury. He had a brother, Paul, and two sisters, Renée and Nadia. He married Rosemary Janet Said, and they have a daughter, Amal.

In April 1948, Zahlan and his family moved to Lebanon to take refuge due to the occupation of Haifa. He received a scholarship at AUB, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree (1952) and master's degree (1953) in physics. He then moved to the United States where he was awarded a doctorate in physics in 1956 from Syracuse University in New York.

His work
“I am a former physical scientist who changed course to develop policies to help transform countries," wrote Dr. Antoine Zahlan on his LinkedIn profile. “Interested in developing policies, in developing countries, to overcome underdevelopment through the deployment of national human capital in development." He added, “International efforts to stem the brain drain and fight poverty have all failed because they start along wrong pat"

During his lifetime, Zahlan spent decades seeking to highlight the importance of science, scientific research and scholarship, human capital, science policy, scientific societies, and future studies.

Between 1956 and 1976, Zahlan was professor and chairman of the Physics Department at AUB. He undertook scientific research in molecular crystals at low temperature and published a number of articles in this field. He also served as contributing editor to international refereed journals in physics and chemistry. He also contributed to the establishment of a research and academic program leading to the PhD degree in physics at AUB.

“By 1963 it became clear that Arab professionals educated abroad at great effort and cost were brain draining often because they could not secure employment in Arab organizations," mentioned Dr. Zahlan in his resume. In response to this challenge, he initiated “a number of regional and international research programmes to elucidate the difficulties encountered by Arab scientists in returning home after completing their study abroad." Professor Zahlan became involved in efforts to reverse the “Arab Brain Drain." He then worked on developing methods to locate Arab professionals, and to organize information in “Brain Banks." In 1967, in collaboration with Dr. Claire Nader, he organized an international conference on science and development, the first of its kind in the Arab world.

In 1969, Zahlan suggested to King Hussein and Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan the establishment of the Royal Scientific Society (RSS) in Amman, of which he was the first director (1969-1970). The RSS was designed and established as a public institution devoted to the provision of advisory services in science policy in a wide range of strategic fields. The objective was to accelerate and rationalize the processes of technology acquisition and to introduce efficient methods for the mobilization of Arab human capital.

In 1973, together with colleagues, he established and served as director of the first non-profit Arab research and consulting firm:  Arab Projects and Development (APD) in Beirut. He developed and applied the concept of the virtual organization through the establishment of an Arab Brain Bank. The Brain Bank consisted of a substantial number of Arab professionals who were prepared to join an APD project when possible. Thus, APD was able to manage a wide range of consulting services through the effective mobilization of Arab professional manpower worldwide.

In 1974, Professor Zahlan was elected the first president of the Arab Physical Society.

In 1975, he published, with the participation of a substantial number of Arab professionals, the first study on The Arab World: Year 2000. Sponsored by APD, this book contrasted the options and challenges facing Arabs as a result of the massive and rapid technological changes taking place in the world around them. ​

He also held academic positions at Stanford University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Sussex, Brighton (UK).​

After returning to Beirut he set up a private consultancy, and throughout the 1980s and 1990s he worked as a consultant and expert for several Arab and international institutions. One of the important roles he had as a consultant was his work for the Arab League, preparing for the Arab summit of 1980–81 the agenda of which included the adoption of the “Charter for National [Pan-Arab] Economic Action" and the “Decade of Arab Development."

In 2008 and 2009, Zahlan worked as an adviser to the prime minister's office in the Kurdish region of Iraq to set up local industries. In 2010 he set up the Arab Scientific Community Organization, which is supervised by a board of trustees made up of scientists from Iraq, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, and Lebanon. He served on many other boards, including the Arab Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; the Arab Unity Studies Center in Beirut; and the Welfare Association. He was also a member of the Arab–British Chamber of Commerce and the New York Academy of Sciences, among others.

Zahlan has written or contributed to over 150 publications on science, technology, and education in Arabic and English.

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