American University of Beirut

Hanna Nasir

​​​​​Academic and political figure Hanna Musa Nasir (BA 1955, MA 1961) is the chairperson of the Board of Trustees at Birzeit University. He is the long-time president of Birzeit University who directed its transition from a community college to an accredited, world-class university and fostered a devoted faculty with a strong commitment to teaching and to the development and future of the Palestinian people. His vision to create a model refuge for many Palestinian students to study in their homeland remained unwavering, despite the challenges that he, the university, and the country faced over the years.

Born in Jaffa in 1935, Hanna is the son of the late Musa (BA 1914) who cofounded and headed Birzeit College for many years before his death. Musa Nasir was also twice elected to the Jordanian parliament and held ministerial positions in the Jordanian government.

Hanna Nasir received his bachelor of science in physics and master's in philosophy from AUB. He then pursued his PhD in nuclear physics at Purdue University and received his degree in 1967.

In 1972, he chaired a team to develop Birzeit College, established by his father, into a university, one of the biggest in the Arab world today. He became the first president of the university and remained so until his retirement in 2004.

His notion of a renaissance of a free Palestinian people and the university's activism against the Israeli occupation led to several confrontations with them and the closure of Birzeit in 1973, a year after it opened. This would be the first of 15 closures of the university by the Israeli army between 1973 and 1992.

The following year, Nasir was seized at midnight by armed Israelis, blindfolded, and driven across the border into Lebanon. The Israeli occupation authorities later announced that he had been expelled for his promotion of demonstrations against Israeli occupation. For the nineteen years that followed, Nasir remained the university's president while in exile. He spoke often in the US and Europe on the Palestinians and their right to education and raised funds to further advance the university. Birzeit continued to develop and expand with new faculties and programs during that period. It became a member of both the Association of Arab Universities and the International Association of Universities in 1976. ​

During the period 1977-1984, Nasir was elected for two consecutive terms as an independent member of the Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee. In the wake of the Oslo accords, in 1993, Nasir was allowed to return to Palestine along with other deportees.

Nasir was an active member of the International Association of Universities (IAU) and was elected as one of its vice presidents during the period 2000 up to 2004. Engaged and liberal, he gave lectures to faculty and students on democracy, dialogue, and the significance of protecting the right of people to their opinions.​

Dr. Nasir also held other posts. He was appointed in 2002 as chairman of the Palestinian Central Elections Commission, an independent body established by the Palestinian National Authority in 1995. He oversaw the presidential election in 2005, the legislative election in 2006, and local elections in the West Bank in 2012, 2017, and 2021.

During his tenure as president and/or chairman of the Board of Trustees, Birzeit University received the Yasser Arafat Achievement Award, 2018. In the same year, Nasir was awarded a medal of honor of the highest order by President Abbas, in recognition of his role in supporting the Palestinian community and defending Palestine's land, people, and cause. Nasir was also presented with an honorary doctorate by the American University in Cairo in 2011 and the Legion of Honor from France in 1996.

Dr. Hanna Musa Nasir is married to Tania Tamari, an opera singer and author. Together, they have three sons and one daughter.

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