President's Speech - Hanan Ashrawi

Dr. John Waterbury's speech
introducing Hanan Ashrawi 
June 28, 2008

Scholar, writer, teacher, activist, elected representative, spokesperson, peace maker - Hanan Ashrawi is all these things and more. It was on this campus that Dr. Ashrawi began to develop her multiple persona and to understand her mission in the support of the Palestinian people and the cause of peace. 

Hanan Ashrawi received her bachelor's and master's degrees in literature in the Department of English at the American University of Beirut. After earning her PhD in medieval and comparative literature from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Dr. Ashrawi returned to her homeland in 1973 to establish the Department of English at Birzeit University on the West Bank, just as the university was transforming itself from a two-year college to a four-year institution of higher learning. She served as Chair of that department from 1973 to 1978, and again from 1981 through 1984; and from 1986-90 she served the university as Dean of the Faculty of Arts. She remained a faculty member at Birzeit University until 1995, publishing numerous poems, short stories, papers, and articles on Palestinian culture, literature, and politics and editing theAnthology of Palestinian Literature. In the field of literature, she is the author of The Modern Palestinian Short Story: An Introduction to Practical Criticism; Contemporary Palestinian Literature under Occupation; Contemporary Palestinian Poetry and Fiction; and Literary Translation: Theory and Practice. 

From 1991 through 1993 she served as the Official Spokesperson of the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Process and a member of the Leadership/Guidance Committee and Executive Committee of the Delegation. 

In 1996 she finally agreed to join the Palestinian Authority as Minister of Higher Education and Research, but she resigned in 1998 in protest against corruption and the handling of the peace talks. 

Hanan Ashrawi is Secretary General of the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, known by its Arabic acronym as MIFTAH, which she founded in 1998. It is devoted to the promotion of democracy, good governance, and transparency in Palestinian politics as well as to provide analysis of contemporary Palestinian affairs in the context of the enduring conflict with Israel. 

More recently, in 2002 she was awarded the Olaf Palme Prize, in 2003, the Sydney Peace Prize (2003), and, in 2005 the Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Peace and Reconciliation. Hanan Ashrawi continues to be recognized in the areas of women's issues, peace making, education, human rights, international affairs, and Palestinian culture. 

When we re-launched honorary degrees at AUB five years ago, we stipulated that active politicians are not eligible. We feared that politicians, craving publicity to promote their careers or burnish their legitimacy might try to exploit this occasion. Better not to open that door, we believed. But with Hanan Ashrawi we have deliberately blurred that distinction because she has been a politician in only the loosest sense of that word, and almost by accident - the accident of being Palestinian. In her own words when returning to the occupied territories and to Birzeit University after her studies in the US, she recollected: "But one of the most painful aspects, and I always said that no academic has ever had that responsibility, was to cradle the head of a dying student. I've had to do that, I've had to protect students. I carried wounded students in my car, went through checkpoints and tear gas and bullets to take them to hospitals." So in a sense, you merge the academic, the political, the personal, the human, the struggle, all together, and you don't fragment yourself as a human being or divide your roles. You're all these things together: you're a dean, a teacher, a mother, maybe even a priest if you will, at the end of the day.

Hanan Ashrawi, welcome back to AUB.